Search of farm continues

The Edmonton Journal, Canada/January 11, 2010

Edmonton - Wiebo Ludwig said his family held religious devotions as usual Sunday morning in the dining hall of their three-storey straw bale home, while dozens of police officers scoured their Trickle Creek farm for evidence linking him to six pipeline bombings in B.C.

The family patriarch said police have searched five homes on the sprawling, 300-hectare farm and are now focusing on about 14 outbuildings, including shops, barns and greenhouses.

RCMP have a warrant that allows them five days to search the property in northwestern Alberta, but Ludwig said in an interview that police have advised him they may be finished sooner than that.

"They're searching the buildings," he said. "They're hoping to be done in a day or so, they say."

He lamented that he spent much of Sunday answering questions from media about the RCMP search when he believes their focus should be on the environmental fallout from oil and gas development around Dawson Creek and Tomslake, B.C.

Numerous residents in the area have complained they live under the constant threat of accidental releases of poisonous hydrogen sulphide -- present in "sour" natural gas -- which is deadly even in low concentrations.

Ludwig says his neighbours had to evacuate in November when sour gas leaked from a nearby well.

"That was a result of the industry, not the bomber, and that gets hardly any mention in the press. People are saying, 'Hey, wake up. The bomber didn't hurt anybody.'"

He urged media to call attention to the risks of sour gas development, adding the police should "stop chasing the wrong criminals."

Ludwig has for decades claimed that sour gas wells have adversely affected his family's health. He was jailed in 2001 following a conviction on five charges related to oilpatch bombings and vandalism.

He was arrested again Friday after he went to meet police at a Grande Prairie motel. Ludwig said he thought police wanted his help to improve relations between the community and the oil industry.

Instead, he said, police grilled him for 10 hours while launching a raid on his farm with 30-member armed teams equipped with police dogs.

Ludwig's lawyer Paul Moreau said he was advised his client would be charged with extortion. However, on Saturday, Ludwig was released without being charged. RCMP insist they arrested the right person, but claim they require more evidence to ensure a conviction.

Ludwig's wife, Mamie, said Sunday that police have been removing items from the property, but she declined to say what was taken.

"We know what we're missing, but we don't know what they're using or what it means at all ... There are quite a few things."

She said the intensity of the police search and control over the farm's residents has decreased, but the farm's 50 residents must still request an RCMP escort if they want to leave their homes and go to other areas of the farm to do chores.

"It's a little disruptive because normally we come and go to the barn as we wish, but it hasn't been a big deal," she said. "It doesn't pay to get angry and frustrated over those minor details. There are more important things at stake."

Police have been searching the property for evidence connecting Ludwig to six B.C. pipeline bombings, looking for pens, paper, video, computers, computer parts and dynamite, his lawyer said Sunday.

"These are all items that are pretty common. You could find these in just about any house you would want to search anywhere in Canada," Moreau said. "Even dynamite is not as unusual as you might think among farmers on the prairies. Any farmer can go buy dynamite legally and a lot of them have it and use it for various jobs on the farm -- clearing bush, moving tree stamps, making dugouts, stuff like that."

Paul Joosse, a researcher at the University of Alberta who has studied eco-terrorism, questioned the massive police presence that has included teams of heavily armed officers in camouflage uniforms.

Police have said the large-scale police presence was a safety precaution because it was very likely there could be firearms on Ludwig's property.

Joosse noted there are guns on many farms.

"The RCMP had been meeting with members of Trickle Creek on an ongoing basis, including on the farm," he noted. "So they had been to the farm before ... but we don't know what their criteria for making that decision is."

Four RCMP officers were shot and killed during a March 2005 raid on an Alberta farm near Mayerthorpe, but RCMP haven't linked the heavily armed response at Trickle Creek to that tragedy.

Police have been investigating a series of bombings that targeted EnCana pipelines and wellheads near Dawson Creek, B.C. since October 2008. The sites of the bombings are less than an hour's drive from Ludwig's farm, north of Hythe.

During their investigation, police have questioned numerous people in Tomslake, B.C., a community of about 300 families located about 28 kilometres south of Dawson Creek.

Ludwig's lawyer said police have put many hours and resources into investigating the pipeline bombings. "You would think before they take the step of arresting someone and issuing a media release about it as well that they would make sure they had enough evidence to justify that," said Moreau.

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