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Photo of Wiebo Ludwig on his farm in November, 2009, photographed by freelance reporter Byron Christopher. (Byron Christopher)
Photo of Wiebo Ludwig on his farm in November, 2009, photographed by freelance reporter Byron Christopher. (Byron Christopher)

Ludwig released without charge Add to ...

Twenty-four hours after being arrested by RCMP, Wiebo Ludwig has been released without charge.

Mr. Ludwig's lawyer, Paul Moreau, said the Alberta eco-activist was let go from police custody in Grande Prairie, Alta., at about 8 a.m. Saturday and returned to his family farm.

But questions remain over why Mr. Ludwig was arrested, told he would be charged with extortion, but then released.

"RCMP have declined to answer my questions as to why they think they had grounds to arrest him Friday, but they don't think they have grounds to charge him today," Mr. Moreau said Saturday morning.

Mr. Ludwig spoke only briefly when he was released from jail in Grande Prairie, Alta., and then again as he arrived at the gates of his property.

He said RCMP interrogated him for 10 hours Friday night, "five hours of which I shut down, but they kept talking."

"They still want to do a little bit of work before they get their forces together."

The RCMP said Saturday afternoon they have new evidence that will be submitted to the Crown in the case of pipeline bombings in British Columbia.

Inspector Tim Shields says the evidence obtained in the last 24 hours didn't necessarily come from a search of Mr. Ludwig's farm.

Insp. Shields says police had "reasonable and probable grounds" to make an arrest, but the Crown didn't see sufficient evidence to lay charges.

He says the search of Mr. Ludwig's sprawling Trickle Creek farm in northwestern Alberta near the B.C. boundary will continue for several days, despite charges from members of his family that it amounts to an invasive "fishing expedition."

About 150 RCMP officers from across British Columbia and Alberta have descended upon the farm, bringing dozens of vehicles, a helicopter and even their own portable toilets, according to new details provided by some of the 50 people living on the 325-hectare compound.

Police have declined to detail what led them to the property in northwestern Alberta, saying in a statement that "we have followed a trail of evidence that ultimately led to the execution of the search warrant" and the parallel arrest of Mr. Ludwig, 68, who was told he would be charged with extortion.

In a statement Saturday morning, RCMP said their search was "authorized by judges in both Vancouver and Edmonton." The Mounties said that "recently collected evidence will be submitted to Crown Counsel for their consideration." The search force is "working around the clock to expedite this process in order to minimize disruption and displacement to the family and other residents of the property."

Police have said the search is being conducted in relation to the six bombings of natural gas pipelines and other installations across the border in northeastern British Columbia. An unknown bomber has threatened the energy industry with the blasts and menacing notes, triggering a 15-month investigation. Police have said their actions on the Ludwig farm amount to a "significant development" in that investigation.

But according to Richard Boonstra, who works alongside Mr. Ludwig, the RCMP operation is an exercise in "shaking the tree."

It began shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, with a phone call alerting the farm that police were on their way. Soon after, officers presented a five-day warrant detailing their search for blue and red pens, writing paper, audio and video recording equipment, an inkjet printer, video recordings, explosives and a pair of shoes.

An advance team of heavily-armed officers arrived on the property to secure buildings. One of Mr. Ludwig's sons, 22-year-old Levi, was out walking on a forest path when he came upon heavily-armed officers clad in white wintertime camouflage. He was arrested and, according to the family, searched multiple times before being released later in the day.

At the same time, officers brought all 50 people living on the farm into a single building as they began their search. Anyone who wished to leave the property, or even attend to birthing goats on the farm, could only do so with a police escort, said Mr. Boonstra. He, along with Josh Ludwig - another of Mr. Ludwig's sons - agreed to provide details in an interview with The Globe and Mail and Edmonton journalist Byron Christopher late Friday night.

Farm residents have not physically clashed with police, who they have provided with coffee, Mr. Boonstra said. Police have told him that about 150 officers are on the property, he said.

Those who live on Trickle Creek have had a long and sometimes unhappy relationship with RCMP and the energy industry, which they have publicly fought for its installation of dangerous sour gas wells near their farms. Mr. Ludwig has blamed those wells for sickness and birth defects among his animals and his own family.

In the late 1990s, hundreds of acts of vandalism were committed on energy installations near the family farm, and Mr. Ludwig served nearly two years in jail for his role in several acts of sabotage.

But the family said it is unfair to associate Mr. Ludwig with the recent spate of bombings in B.C., which occurred less than 100 kilometres away from the farm.

"There's not a shred of evidence, and as far as I'm concerned this [search]is purely a fishing trip," said Josh Ludwig. "I don't think it's fair to take it out on people like us simply because we have had strong views about the oil and gas industry."

The bomber could be any of the many rural residents of the area, he said.

Though many in the region have welcomed the oil and gas industry, and the income it has brought, others have grown angry at the level of activity that has come to their rural homes.

Tomslake, the small B.C. hamlet where the bombings have been centred, "is one of those areas where there's a lot of people that live there to get away from the hustle and bustle and live a quiet life," Josh said. "I'm sure there are many, many people who are not happy."

Josh was with his father when police arrested him at the Super 8 Motel in Grande Prairie. They had arranged a meeting with Mr. Ludwig to discuss an offer he made to serve as an intermediary between police and the bomber. The meeting was set before Christmas.

They arrived at the hotel in a pickup truck and had just backed into a parking stall when a police cruiser moved in front of them, blocking their exit. Officers told Mr. Ludwig he was under arrest, frisked him in the parking lot and took him away, said Josh, who was led to a hotel room and not allowed to inform his family of what had happened.

Josh said he was not arrested, and was freed about three hours later.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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