Straight Talk
LORNE GUNTER - The trouble with Pipe Trouble


Eco-terrorism against pipelines is not a game in the West the way it seems to be for some smug public-sector cultural elitists in Ontario. It has actually happened here. And it seems a 16-year-old girl has died because of it (although not as the direct result of a pipeline attack).

Last week, it was revealed by Sun News Network that TV Ontario, the provincially funded educational broadcaster, had paid for the development of a video game app called Pipe Trouble in which an overweight, ruddy-faced, balding industrialist is callously trying to push through a pipeline over the objections of a young, denim-wearing farmer. In the end, the pipeline blows up, either because it runs over budget or (we are left to presume) because eco-activists dynamite it.

Admittedly, both characters in the game are crude stereotypes. (It’s a video game.) The environmentalist farmer is bearded, for instance.

But there is a clear bias against the pipeline owner and in favour of the farmer. Developers Pop Sandbox Productions and Six Islands Productions, with input from TVO and the Ontario Media Development Corp., have done everything to make the pipeline owner appear cruel and sinister short of giving him a Snidely Whiplash mustache and having him tie a damsel to some train tracks.

To reinforce where TVO and the game’s developers stand, proceeds from online downloads are being donated to the David Suzuki Foundation. (Oh, yeah. No side-taking there.) However, there have already been real-life incidents of anti-pipeline terrorism in the West already, some serious.

A cultish fundamentalist pastor, Wiebo Ludwig, set up a Christian agricultural commune near Hythe, Alberta in the mid-1980s. When the area became the scene of a rush of natural gas exploration in the early 1990s, Ludwig began to blame the death of livestock on energy companies. He also blamed them for still births and birth defects among families on his Trickle Creek farm. (He dismissed suggestions that intermarriage within his tiny community might have been to blame.) After years of legal fights, blockades and other protests against energy companies, a string of sabotage attacks on gas and oil plants near the Ludwig compound were traced back to him. In 2000, Ludwig was convicted of blowing up a gas well, plotting to damage another well site near his home, encasing a third in concrete and counselling an RCMP informant to acquire explosives illegally. He served 19 months in jail.

Early one summer morning in 1999, after Ludwig had been arrested and before he came to trial, a pickup full of teens from the nearby community drove onto Ludwig’s property and began stunting in his farm yard. Relations between Ludwig and the town of 1,600 were poor because so many in Hythe relied on the energy sector for their livelihoods.

Someone, presumably from Ludwig’s clan, shot at the pickup, killing 16-year-old Karman Willis and wounding another young person. Police were never able to recover the murder weapon and no one was ever charged with Willis’ killing.

Pipe Trouble is not specifically about the Ludwig saga. Indeed, the game was developed to promote a TVO-financed documentary about another eco-activist farmer, Karl Mattson, who opposes pipeline construction in B.C.’s Peace country, just a few dozen kilometres across the Alberta-B.C. border from Ludwig’s home.

Nonetheless, the game cuts too close to a very sensitive line.

Besides, it is impossible to conceive of TVO doing the reverse, say paying for a “Sink the Anti-Whalers” app that shows personnel on a whaling ship trying to poke holes in Sea Shepherd zodiaks.

While the Ontario broadcaster pulled the pipeline app from its website Friday night — pending independent review — the Suzuki Foundation should return any funds it has received.

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