Maclean’s Interview: Wiebo Ludwig

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Anti-oil patch activist on his arrest, the ’very humane’ search of his property, and the EnCana pipeline bombings
Byron Christopher

Maclean’s Interview: Wiebo Ludwig
UPDATE: Wiebo Ludwig died of esophageal cancer on April 9 , at the age of 70, at home in Alberta. Here is our interview with the controversial figure from two years ago, after an RCMP arrest.

Wiebo Ludwig has long been a fierce opponent of the oil and gas industry. He claims that sour gas wells have led to health problems, including miscarriages, for his family, who live on Trickle Creek Farm, near Hythe, Alta. In 2000, Ludwig was convicted of charges in relation to the 1998 bombing of gas wells in Alberta, and served two-thirds of a 28-month sentence. After six bombings of the EnCana pipeline near Tomslake, B.C., the oil company received anonymous letters demanding it cease operations. On Jan. 8, Ludwig was arrested and the RCMP conducted an extensive search of his property for evidence. Ludwig, 68, was released without charges the day after his arrest. Since then, the RCMP have said they have “significant” evidence they will be submitting to the Crown.

Q: On the day of your arrest, you and your son, Josh, drove into Grande Prairie for what you thought was a friendly meeting at a motel with the RCMP to get an update on the Tomslake bombing. Walk me through that.
A: I expected to speak with the inspector from Calgary and, for a change, not focus on who was the bomber but how can we resolve the problems at Tomslake. As we backed in, four police cars came into the lot, plus a ghost car. One of the policemen walked up and said, “Mr. Ludwig, you’ll have to get out. We need to talk to you.” They wanted to arrest me, they said, for extortion.

Q: What was your reaction?
A: I said, “Extortion? That’s never come into my mind, unless you have access to my subconscious mind or something.” They chuckled a bit, but they were pretty serious. [An inspector from Vancouver] explained to me that was indeed the charge, and that I’d have to come along to the detachment in Grande Prairie.
On the way there, we pulled into a big-box store, where the police were taking down some person, a tough guy, apparently. One of the officers came up to the ghost car and said, “Boy, he punched so-and-so right in the head.” When they brought me to my cell, that guy was in there.

Q: The same guy from the scuffle?
A: Yeah. I said to the investigator and the person on duty, “Hey, what’s going on here? I saw this man in a violent takedown. You have a duty to make sure that my life and limb is protected. The Constitution guarantees me that safety.” “Yeah, that’s true,” he said. They told me to go in there anyway.

Q: How long was that other individual in that cell with you?
A: For a couple of hours.

Q: Did he speak with you?
A: I didn’t talk to him at first. He started to talk to me but I was feeling kind of shocked from being arrested, so I just lay there on the cot for about 15 minutes. He made an angry speech trying to justify himself as a regular troublemaker, eh? But I didn’t buy it. I could tell each time he wanted me to talk about myself, and I tried to get him to talk about himself, you know? Later on I brought it up, before they took me out to interrogate me, and he got pretty hostile. He said, “Do you think I’m a plant here? That’s really offensive.” He got really angry and stared me down. And I said, “Well, you know, I’m just saying they sure made it look like it. I’ve been in jail before, and I know they do those things.”

Q: How long was the interrogation?
A: Two five-hour sessions, roughly.

Q: Was it one officer asking you questions?
A: The first half of it was just one officer. The first half was all about saying they had a lot of sympathy for what our family went through. He showed me they had investigated this for quite a while, from 1991 to 2010. They had it all in little anecdotes pasted on the wall in chronological order.

Q: So he seemed somewhat sympathetic to your plight?
A: Yeah. After that first stint, I called my lawyer, Paul Moreau, and he said, “Hey, listen, they’re just softening you up. I would not talk anymore.” So I followed that advice.

Q: What was the reaction of the police when you refused to talk to them?
A: They said they could appreciate that, but they wanted to tell me a little story. He had a computer, with a 20- to 25-minute presentation of Nelson Mandela’s struggles.
So he showed how Nelson Mandela’s struggle lined up with ours. He said, “You know, the thing he did—and that’s what I want you to listen to carefully, Wiebo—he did a wonderful thing there, he didn’t try to sneak and say, ‘No, I had nothing to do with it,’ he just laid it all out, what he had done and why he had done it and he was respected around the globe for that, and, you know, it would do your cause a lot of good. If you would just lay this stuff out, you’d get a lot of respect, whatever your involvement has been.”

Q: What was your response to that?
A: I just listened. And it went on for another four hours.

Q: Did the police tell you why you were being set free and not charged?
A: The Crown didn’t feel [the evidence was] legitimately sufficient on which to hold me.


‘The RCMP said, “Mandela laid it all out. If you would just lay this stuff out, you’d get a lot of respect. ”  I just listened.’
‘The RCMP said, “Mandela laid it all out. If you would just lay this stuff out, you’d get a lot of respect. ” I just listened.’

Q: Your arrest and the search of your property has put you back in the spotlight. Do you welcome it as an opportunity, or is it a pain?
A: I had a sense before I got home that this might be a much more timely arrest and return to our case in Alberta, given the Copenhagen thing and the fact that that all failed. I said, “Let’s see what we can do to awake the public again to the great need for this.”

Q: Did the Mounties say why they thought you were guilty of extortion? Did they say to you, “Look, we believe your DNA is on this envelope, or on this paper?”
A: “On the outside,” they said, “there’s other DNA from postal workers who handled the envelope, but there’s definitely”—words to this effect—“a liberal sprinkling of your DNA in there as well. And you can trust us.” I didn’t say anything. But when they kept pounding away, I said, “I think it’s ridiculous.”

Q: You’ve said in spite of what has happened, you haven’t closed the door to helping the RCMP or meeting with them again. Why would you want to co-operate?
A: I have seen in life the us-and-them syndrome in jail and in small towns, and seen how we don’t treat each other first of all as human beings regardless of who we are, what kind of trouble we’re in. The fact that there were [so many] officers here for five days is quite a stress on a community. But we bore with that patiently and it seemed to create a pretty good atmosphere here.

Q: What about the possibility the RCMP have left behind listening devices? They did in 1999 after Karman Willis was fatally shot on your property.
A: I imagine that would probably be the thing they’d want to do.

Q: How is your family handling all this?
A: Pretty good, actually.

Q: So you don’t think there’ll be any long-term effects on the children?
A: I don’t think so. The last search we had 10 years ago was pretty rough. This was very humane, exceedingly humane.

Q: Did the RCMP seize your computers?
A: They seized all our computers and software, including cameras and tapes.

Q: What else?
A: We have quite a system of filing here, they took a lot of those. They were looking for stamps, and they showed me in jail what kind they were looking for. I looked in my drawer [when I got home] and there were quite a few different stamps. There was even one of those kinds in a pack of six—five had been used—and they didn’t take it. It was the Canadian flag stamp.

Q: That’s a fairly common stamp, isn’t it?
A: That’s the one they wanted, and they left it here. That kind of puzzles me.

Q: When I went to your farm in November, I was shocked how self-sufficient your community was. You had solar power, wind-generated power, greenhouses, a metal shop, a woodworking shop, cattle, chickens and sheep.
A: We’re happy with what we’ve achieved so far—we’re about 80 per cent fossil fuel free—and self-sufficient food-wise and in other ways, home education.

Q: You’re perceived as, some people say, an eco-terrorist. You have a criminal conviction, and now people see you as a suspect in the bombings. Does it bother you?
A: Well, I don’t like it, of course. One prefers to have a good reputation as much as possible, but I think that stuff is necessary for a while until there’s greater understanding as to what we are really all about.

Q: How do people react to you?
A: I was in town this afternoon and a young man came in—he was a university student or something—and wanted to shake my hand. He said, “I want you to know that whatever you did, even if you did it, I’m 100 per cent behind you. I think it’s terrible what’s going on.” That’s the typical thing that happens. People are concerned about what’s going on in the world, with pollution particularly.

Q: Do you have any theory as to who is behind the bombings at Tomslake? Do you think that they will eventually be caught?
A: I don’t think so. I think that’s probably going to die down. I don’t want to say too much on that.

Q: Do you ever google yourself to find out what people say about you?
A: I don’t use the computer much but Josh prints some of those out. Lately, it’s about 90 per cent thumbs up on a lot of issues.

Q: One of the things said about you is that you’re a bit of an Old Testament kind of guy. Is that fair?
A: I don’t think so. But I can see today where anybody who speaks somewhat deeply spiritually, scripturally, is going to be relegated to that. There’s not much room for those kinds of discussions, unfortunately. The church itself has made it impossible to keep that discussion somewhat alive in society. It has compromised and made itself a laughingstock of the intellectual world.

Q: You’ve been through a lot. Did you ever feel that God has deserted you?
A: Quite the opposite, actually.

Q: In retrospect, do you think the open letter that you wrote to the bomber last fall [in it, Ludwig appealed for the bombing to stop, but was sympathetic to the cause] drew some negative attention to you?
A: A certain amount. They even used it in the interview to show that I was giving indications that I was probably involved in the bombing, that I might even be orchestrating it. They showed me the quotes they were using to come to that conclusion, and I didn’t see at all how you could come to that conclusion.

Q: Did you ever think that one of your sons or a family member would have been involved in the bombings in Tomslake? Did you ever have a talk with them to say, “Hey guys, anyone involved in that?”
A: That’s a bit sensitive for me to talk about but, you know, there has been a lot of pain in some of the young men here, in the loss of the children [the miscarriages], and I could well see that they

Q: No one’s been charged or anything.
A: No, no. But I’m saying there is motive, I suppose, the police can go after, but then that’s not necessarily a reason to suspect anybody.