Trial Essay, Research Paper

Ludwig trial put cash-strapped RCMP under scrutiny


EDMONTON (CP) – Wiebo Ludwig was the defendant, but many times it

seemed the RCMP were the ones on trial.

Eight weeks of testimony at Ludwig’s oilpatch vandalism trial raised

repeated questions about a police force relying on tired, outdated equipment

and in danger of taking bids on its integrity.

But it’s not the first time. The Ludwig trial revealed only the latest example of

a national icon so stretched that it sometimes no longer even tries to get its


The trial sputtered to a close Thursday with allegations of abuse of process

and 10 charges against Ludwig and friend Richard Boonstra abandoned

along the way for lack of evidence.

During the investigation, energy companies victimized by repeated vandalism

in northwestern Alberta grew so frustrated by the slowness of RCMP

response that they helped set up a community group they could use to funnel

money to police.

Defence lawyer Paul Moreau said that biased the police so badly that

Ludwig should be cleared even if the evidence pointed to his guilt.

And when the RCMP did get serious, their covert agent relied on a

30-year-old hidden tape recorder that produced tapes so distorted that they

seriously hindered the prosecution.

It’s all too familiar to Cpl. Mike Funicelli, president of the British Columbia

Mounted Police Association.

“The issue of a shortage of resources, both human and financial, is clearly

documented,” he sighs.

In B.C., the fabled RCMP closed dozens of commercial crime files last fall

because there weren’t resources to investigate them.

Some officers are responding to calls with personal vehicles.

In an effort to raise money, some RCMP vehicles in B.C. bear both the logo

of the force and those of corporate sponsors.

The vehicles are used for community police officers, not enforcement. But

Funicelli calls it “a very, very fine line.

“Whether it’s used for enforcement or not, in my view it’s a clear ethical

breach of the office we hold. We cannot become a private police force for


“If I am a sponsor and I place my logo on a car, I may expect preferential


Journalist Paul Palango has written two books on the ailing RCMP and the

developments of the Ludwig trial didn’t surprise him, either.

“The RCMP right across the country are doing this. They’re soliciting funds

from local businesses in various communities to help them, say, with

undercover work or whatever.

“They just don’t have the resources.

“Politicians are complicit in this . . . They’re getting policing on the cheap,

and when you get it on the cheap you get what you pay for.

“You can’t have policing operating as a business. You can’t have police

operating too close to the public or too close to the powerful elements in

that public.”

The federal government tacitly acknowledged the force’s problems this year

when it boosted RCMP funding in the budget by $584 million over three


But the problems aren’t just financial, says Palango.

“It’s a combination of factors – the cutbacks, the bureaucratic inertia and the

promotion system.”

The RCMP polices everything from small Prairie towns to major offences to

international crimes. The different roles have little to do with each other, yet

officers in search of promotion are moved freely between branches.

“They’re being torn in every possible way, so you’re not getting the right

people in the right positions,” Palango says.

Sgt. Bob Bilodeau, former head of the northwestern Alberta detachment

where Ludwig lives, has said both resources and inertia were factors in the

Ludwig investigation.

The first reports of vandalism came in as early as 1996, but he says senior

RCMP officials refused to recognize its potential to escalate.

“Violence always escalates,” says Bilodeau, now on leave after a

seven-month tour in the former Yugoslavia.

He blames the RCMP for both the problems with the prosecution’s case

and the death of Karman Willis, a 16-year-old girl who was shot on

Ludwig’s Trickle Creek Farm last summer. No one was ever charged in the


Last month, during the vandalism trial, Bilodeau wrote a letter to prosecutor

George Combe in which he said the RCMP failed to disclose information

because it drew attention to its inaction.

“From all the available evidence, it only appears that we (the RCMP), in

order to protect our prior inaction in the earliest stages of the global series of

events that surround the matters before the court, dug a hole to cover the

prior inaction.

“It appears that we have continued to dig that same hole, until . . . we

managed to bury a 16-year-old girl in that same hole.”

Whether or not the RCMP bear any blame for Willis’s death, their oilpatch

vandalism investigation may cost the Crown any convictions against Ludwig

and Boonstra on the remaining 27 charges.

Officials of Alberta Energy Company testified that they were growing

increasingly frustrated by the RCMP’s lack of results in investigating

incidents of vandalism.

Although they weren’t mentioned at the trial, some of the early incidents

were quite serious. In one, someone placed a propane cylinder inside a

shack at a sour gas well and fired bullets at it.

Fortunately, the cylinder didn’t explode, which could have released deadly

sour gas over a wide area.

After repeated meetings with the RCMP over such incidents, AEC officials

concluded the problem was lack of resources.

Defence lawyer Paul Moreau has claimed that the money and other

assistance provided by the energy companies allowed them to steer the

police in the direction of Ludwig, a vocal critic of their industry.

Because of that, Moreau says Justice Sterling Sanderman should clear

Ludwig even if the evidence points to his guilt.

During the trial, Sanderman referred to the possibility of an “unholy alliance”

between the RCMP and Alberta Energy Company – although evidence did

show the RCMP rebuffed offers of help from AEC’s security firm.

Sanderman is expected to deliver his ruling on April 19.

Alberta RCMP will wait and see what he says before deciding if they need

to examine their role, said Supt. Dennis Massey.

“The evidence is before the court, it’s in their hands. Let them make their

decision and we’ll go from there.”

But Funicelli shakes his head at the whole mess. He hopes the new funding

will prevent it from happening again, but asks why the situation exists in the

first place.

“If we had that kind of funding going back a few years, we would not have

to compromise our position as we have, I think.”

A quick primer of the case facing Wiebo Ludwig and Richard

Boonstra and highlights of the arguments:

Counselling – Five counts. Crown points to wiretap evidence of Ludwig and

RCMP informant Robert Wraight discussing purchase of dynamite and

Ludwig paying for it. Defence says tape shows purchase was Wraight’s

idea, not Ludwig’s.

Vandalism conspiracy – Nine counts, relating to attacks on two wells.

Crown has suggestive wiretap comments on bombs and timers, defendant’s

arrest near bombed wellsite, explosive residue on Ludwig’s hands, video

and photos of burning wellhead in Ludwig’s possession. Defence says

comments are ambiguous, evidence circumstantial, Wraight’s testimony


Explosives conspiracy – Three counts relating to possession. Crown has

wiretap of defendants discussing purchase, videotape of them picking up

fake dynamite. Defence says purchase was Wraight’s idea, no dynamite

found at Trickle Creek.

Explosives possession – One count. Crown points to pickup of fake

dynamite. Defence suggests RCMP entrapment.

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