Dozens arrested in Quebec Hells Angels sweep
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, April 15, 2009 8:13PM EDT
Police have arrested 156 people as part of a major strike against the Quebec Hells Angels, with more than 1,200 officers taking part in a series of pre-dawn raids on properties across the province.
The Suret� du Qu�bec says the Project SharQc raids have targeted suspects who have allegedly been involved in crimes -- including various drug and gangsterism offenses, as well as 22 murders -- that took place between 1992 and 2009.
About 120 people, all men except for one woman, have already appeared in court, including two who were wearing Hells Angels T-shirts. Most did not enter a plea.
The Crown opposed bail for all of those that appeared.
Police say they have linked the alleged crimes to five Hells Angels chapters in Quebec.
The raids, led by SQ officers, are designed to put the provincial Hells Angels out of business -- at least for the time being.
The majority of arrests have occurred in Quebec, though five male suspects -- all in their 40s and 50s -- were nabbed in St. Leonard, N.B. One person was arrested in France and four others in the Dominican Republic.
Laval police spokesperson Daniel Guerin told CTV Newsnet that in addition to the arrests on Wednesday, officers had also executed 177 warrants and seized selected properties in Quebec.
"We will also seize five bunkers of the Hells Angels," Guerin said in a phone interview from Laval, Que.
"We will seize the Montreal chapter ... we will have also the south chapter that is in Longueuil, we will also have the Sherbrooke bunker, the Trois-Rivi�res bunker and the Quebec City bunker, too."
RCMP Sgt. Claude Tremblay said the suspects who were arrested in New Brunswick would be flown to Montreal on Wednesday.
Unspecified guns and drugs were seized from the New Brunswick suspects, whom police allege are involved in bringing drugs from the United States and into Canada.
"New Brunswick is the corridor to the Maritimes and everything comes through our highways and we have a lot of small airports through the region," Tremblay said.
"There's a lot of trafficking going on. It's mostly related to underground crime and a lot of it is run by the Hells Angels."
Guerin said the raids were part of a three-year investigation into the Quebec Hells Angels, which involved prosecutors and 200 police officers.
Police arrested both active and "retired" Hells Angels on Wednesday, Guerin said, because of their alleged involvement in 22 murders, drug trafficking, conspiracy and gangsterism offenses.
Investigative reporter Julian Sher, who has co-authored two books about the Hells Angels, called the Wednesday morning raids a "huge" accomplishment for police.
"It has to be a devastating impact to the Hells Angels, regardless of how it turns out in the courts," he told CTV.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday morning.
"Just the fact that the police can pull this off again sends a message."
The scope of Wednesday's raids indicates that the police used intelligence to undertake them, he said.
"The police are getting smarter and better," said Sher. "They are using the only tool that is effective against organized crime and that's infiltration and intelligence, and they've learned that lesson."
But crime expert James Dubro told CTV Montreal that he did not agree with suggestions that the operation would wipe out the Angels in Quebec.
"I don't agree with that. I would say that it's the most audacious raid [the police have] ever done, attempting to knock out the entire membership of full-patch members and some of their key associates," he said. "That's certainly never happened before. They've done it against the Rizzuto family for about 100 people, this is probably the most daring raid operation done by the police and using the organized crime laws.
"But to totally eliminate them would be impossible, because they have such an infrastructure both within and outside of Quebec," he said.
He said that the international nature of the Hells Angels gives them too many resources to fall back on.
"The Hells Angels controls all the biker groups in this country. They will come to the aid of their brothers," he told CTV Newsnet earlier on Wednesday.
The SQ will hold a press conference about Project SharQc in Montreal on Thursday morning.
Sher said the Hells Angels currently have 400-450 members scattered across Canada.
Last month, police arrested 10 people in "Operation Baladeur" -- a series of raids that saw 11 people arrested in connection with alleged criminal offenses that relate to Quebec's notorious biker war of the 1990s.
In February, "Operation Axe," a raid involving 700 police officers, targeted suspected biker and street gang members in Ontario and Quebec. Forty-seven people were arrested, some of whom police alleged were Hells Angels members.
According to its official website, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club first formed in the United States in 1948.
Since then, the Hells Angels have formed chapters around the world including in Canada, Australia, South Africa, as well as in South America and Europe.
The Hells Angels are believed to have been in Quebec since the late 1970s.
The website says that the group has an official chapter in France, where some of the Quebec targets were arrested on Wednesday.
In the Dominican Republic, however, the website says the local members are only considered "prospects," and not full Hells Angels members.
With files from CTV Montreal and The Canadian Press