Did Mounties go too far to get their man?

Published Feb. 16, 1999|Updated Sept. 28, 2005

When a bomb exploded last October at a gas well just west of the tiny Alberta town of Beaverlodge, few doubted that it was the latest attack by a small band of "eco-terrorists" who had been waging a guerrilla war against the oil and gas industry.

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein vowed to punish the saboteurs to the fullest extent of the law, while the target of the blast, Alberta Energy Co. Ltd., announced it was doubling the $50,000 reward it had offered for help nabbing the perpetrators.

Ranchers and oil field workers flocked to a series of community meetings to hear from an anti-terrorism expert. There was talk that people might have to take matters into their own hands if police didn't do something to stop the man widely thought to be the ringleader of the eco-insurrection, a 56-year-old organic farmer and Calvinist preacher named Wiebo Ludwig.

But at a bail hearing for Ludwig two weeks ago, prosecutors acknowledged that it was not Ludwig who had detonated the bomb at Beaverlodge, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police working secretly with Alberta Energy. According to RCMP documents, it was all part of a ruse designed to insinuate a police informant into Ludwig's band _ a neighbor whose testimony and tape-recorded conversations led to Ludwig's arrest in January on nine counts of conspiracy to destroy property and violate explosives laws.

Since the revelation, Canadian newspapers have lined up to editorialize against the unusual police tactics. Cartoonists had a field day at the expense of the Mounties' bomb squad. Opposition politicians here and in Ottawa demanded investigations. Most legal experts have agreed with Edmonton lawyer Gwilym Davies, a former law professor, that the Mounties had crossed the line.

"This isn't Waco, Texas," said Ludwig's lawyer, Richard Secord. "It's Canada! We don't do things like that up here."

Ever since a gas leak forced evacuation of his 320-acre Trickle Creek "community" in 1991, Ludwig has blamed the industry for the death of 60 of his livestock and human health problems.

By the time of the Beaverlodge bombing, police had logged nearly 160 incidents aimed at the oil and gas industry. In interviews, Ludwig refused to say if he was responsible but acknowledged that he knew and sympathized with the people who were.

In the following months, three bombs went off at oil and gas wells, all within several hundred miles of Hythe. Within hours of the third, Ludwig, his son Bo and an associate named Richard Boonstra were arrested at a police roadblock and charged in connection with the bombing. The next day, dozens of RCMP officers descended on Trickle Creek with search warrants, but they couldn't gather enough evidence to tie the trio directly to the bombing, and the charges were dropped.

It was then, in early October 1998, according to court documents, that Robert Wraight, a neighbor of Ludwig's, contacted Alberta Energy with an offer to provide information regarding Ludwig's "criminal involvement." A onetime Ludwig sympathizer, he now claimed to be motivated by concern for his family's safety and the prospect of selling his property to the utility for $70,000.

Wraight's offer was passed to the RCMP, which took it up, assigned him the code name "K4020" and began to coach the new agent on how to infiltrate Ludwig's band. But according to an RCMP memo, Ludwig was suspicious of him and indicated that Wraight needed to prove his commitment to the cause. The RCMP came up with the scheme to blow up an abandoned wellhead shed near Beaverlodge, for which Wraight could take credit in conversations with Ludwig.

RCMP spokesmen said last week that their reliance on the unusual investigative technique reflected the urgency they felt to put Ludwig behind bars. Meanwhile, in press interviews and anonymous notes, Ludwig was warning that the next targets of an anti-utility campaign would be industry executives in Calgary or the Mounties themselves.

"Sometimes I think we should take the president of Alberta Energy Co. hostage, tie him up and make him watch the video of Abel Ryan," Ludwig told Outside magazine, referring to a tape of the stillborn grandson his daughter had delivered that summer. "And then slit his throat."

It never came to that. Last month, Ludwig and Boonstra were arrested on charges that appear to be based almost exclusively on taped conversations with Wraight and information he provided.