It’s been described as the explosion that destroyed P.E.I.’s innocence. It brushed aside the belief that monstrous, criminal acts could never happen in this peaceful province. Oct. 10, 2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the first blast in a bizarre bombing campaign which continued for nine years, terrorizing Islanders and stymying police forces.
The legacy of Roger Charles Bell continues to haunt us. How did an apparently quiet, law-abiding high school teacher turn into the Loki 7 terrorist?
Just after 6 a.m. on October 10, 1988, a homemade pipe bomb detonated beneath judges’ offices at the P.E.I. courthouse on the Charlottetown waterfront. It left Islanders scratching their heads in disbelief. We were convinced it was an isolated act by some unhinged person with a grudge. To think otherwise didn’t make sense – especially on P.E.I. The thought of some madman running amok, setting off bombs, was too sinister to even consider.
Years passed and the courthouse bombing went unsolved and was largely forgotten, until April 20, 1995, when the bombing at the P.E.I. legislature sent MLAs, staff and visitors scurrying for cover. It came a day after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed and brought intense, world-wide media attention to P.E.I.
Letters then started arriving from Loki 7, taunting police, promising more attacks and claiming responsibility for an apparently unrelated 1994 bombing in Halifax. Loki 7 blamed corporate welfare bums – “a troika of greedy businessmen, thieving politicians and venal injustice officials who may run but they cannot hide.” We had a serial bomber on our hands.
Some 14 months after the Province House explosion, a bomb was placed in a propane tank farm on Allen Street. It could have devastated the city but the timer malfunctioned and police safely detonated the device.
RCMP and city police assembled a special task force that eventually linked the four bombings to Mr. Bell, following several important tips. He was placed under surveillance for months and exhaustive police work led to his arrest in December 1996. He pleaded guilty in 1997 -- blaming a divorce, problems at work and being mistreated by society. He was sentenced to 10 years, paroled in the mid-1990s, and today at age 74, he is believed to be living in Halifax.
His legacy remains with Islanders every day. It showed we were vulnerable when anyone could walk off the street and into the premier’s office without hardly anyone raising an eyebrow. Now there are screening devices and metal detectors at the courthouse; and there are locked doors, surveillance cameras, commissionaires and security at government and public buildings. Police credit Mr. Bell with the E-watch program today, which has 70 surveillance cameras throughout the city.
Big Brother is watching us all the time. Thanks to Roger Bell. He robbed us of our innocence. He made us aware we are vulnerable and that we must be careful. But we are determined never to surrender to fear; and to jealously guard our democratic rights and freedoms.
Roger Bell was a wakeup call for us all.