31 Hells Angels released from jail over time concerns
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, May 31, 2011 7:46PM EDT
A Quebec judge ordered the release of 31 Hells Angels from jail on Tuesday, citing practical concerns over their right to a speedy trial.
The bikers were arrested in April of 2009 during a massive police raid called Operation SharQc, which led to dozens of arrests and charges in the province.
But Quebec Superior Court Judge James Brunton said that the likelihood of a timely trial was slim for the suspects, meaning they should be released from jail.
CTV Montreal's Stephane Giroux said that the 124 remaining suspects face more serious charges than those released Tuesday. He added that they failed in their bid to also have their charges dropped.
The judge also reduced other charges on the additional 124 people, described as full-patch Hells Angels members, arrested during the sweep.
In his remarks Tuesday, Brunton slammed provincial prosecutors for green-lighting such a massive case, despite concern that the justice system would not be able to handle the ensuing workload.
Prosecutors say they will appeal the judge's decision.
At the Montreal courthouse where the ruling was handed down, the newly freed exchanged hugs, smiled at television cameras and appeared overjoyed by the news.
But for many, the release of the suspects raises more worry over the state of Quebec's justice system. In the spring, provincial prosecutors went on strike to protest what they say are dwindling Crown resources that leave them overworked and underpaid.
With 2,200 witnesses and more than a million pages of evidence, the trial is massive. According to estimates, it would have taken up to a decade for some of the suspects to see their day in court.
"These people have been accused for two years," Brunton wrote in his judgment. "And it was only last week that the justice minister announced that measures would be undertaken to have six new courtrooms.
"It's not in 2011 that you announce six new courtrooms for multiple trials, it must be done before."
The case centres on allegations of drug dealing, trafficking and other organized crime-related offences.
Police say that most of the 124 suspects who remain in custody are full-patch members of the Hells Angels. Some of the charges in the case include murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
The arrests were the culmination of a massive police sting involving the RCMP and the Quebec provincial police. More than 80 investigations were involved in the overall probe, which began in 2005.
When the arrests were made more than two years ago, police trumpeted the case as a back-breaker for organized crime in the region.
Police claimed at the time that they had shut down most of the biker gang's operations and had seized five biker gang club houses.
Many of the murder charges are linked to Quebec's notorious biker war that raged from 1994 to 2002 and led to dozens of deaths.