TOMSLAKE, B.C. — RCMP in northern British Columbia are scouting sites in the small town of Tomslake, where they suspect the area’s oil-and-gas bomber lives, for a place to set up a temporary detachment.
“What I want is basically a full-service police station out here,” Staff Sgt. Stephen Grant told about 30 people gathered for an area crime watch meeting Thursday night.
Over the past nine months, six explosions have been set at natural gas installations owned by EnCana (TSX:ECA).
The explosions have all happened in a relatively small area between Tomslake and Dawson Creek, which is a 30-kilometre drive northwest. The bombings have damaged infrastructure, but no one has been injured.
Two anonymous letters sent to local media outlets by the person believed to be responsible for the bombings have referred to Tomslake.
Police say they believe the language in the letters - especially references to “our home lands” and “our territories” - points to a resident of the area, which was populated around the time of the Second World War by Czech Sudetenland immigrants. Some of those immigrants used that terminology to describe their new Canadian home.
The small RCMP office, a satellite of the Dawson Creek detachment, will exist for six months, or until the bomber is caught, although Grant expressed hope that it could be continued beyond that time.
“We’re looking at potential sites in the area,” he said in an interview. “We’re working with the regional government to locate a spot, and we hope to get that going pretty quick.”
RCMP efforts to catch the bomber have damaged relations with some area residents, as people have been tailed, subjected to hostile questioning, watched in their own homes and, in one case, accused in a public restaurant of being the bomber.
Grant, commander of the 27-member Dawson Creek detachment, acknowledged police tactics have not always gone over well.
“We all know how this initial investigation was conducted,” he told the Tomslake group. “It did not leave a good taste in people’s mouths.”
But he hopes the new detachment, even if it is temporary, will help mend some of those issues.
RCMP are also bringing in additional personnel, including a six-month posting to the area for a long-serving Mountie who has trained as a sniper and worked with U.S. and Canadian army bomb patrols in Afghanistan.
Police must contend, however, with substantial elements of the community that believe the bomber is doing them a service.
Many have harsh feelings toward the natural gas development that has descended upon them in recent years with a cloud of highway dust and the roar of drilling rigs in a once-quiet place.
As a result, enough people have sympathy for whoever is setting the explosions that one woman told Grant, “The bomber is at least giving us a bit of a voice.”
Police have attempted to convince people otherwise by pointing to the danger the explosions have posed to natural gas workers, including those whose work to repair the fifth explosion involved welding a repair mere centimetres from a roaring natural gas flame.
“This person would like to think they’re Robin Hood, but they’re endangering the people that live here,” Grant said.
Police say the bomber has likely used an all-terrain vehicle to travel to the remote locations of the bombings. Members of the crime watch in Tomslake have nonetheless stepped up their own volunteer patrols, devoting long hours to driving the community’s gravel roads.
For them, the new detachment is welcome.
“It’s a necessary evil generated by the circumstances that have developed in our area,” said Geri Demyem, a crime watch member.