SIGHTINGS


 
Quebec's Hells Angels
Biker Gang Terror
Only to Increase
By Robert Melnbardis
8-8-98


MONTREAL (Reuters) - Operating in a different language and far from their California home, Hells Angels in Quebec have earned a reputation as the world's most murderous biker gang. Since 1994, 87 people have been killed in shootings and bombings in the running battle between members of the Hells Angels and rival outlaw motorcycle gang Rock Machine in the mainly French-speaking province. Now police worry that the arrival of yet another bike gang, this time from Texas, will mean the river of victims' blood will only increase in the months ahead. Most of Quebec's ``biker war'' victims have been directly or indirectly linked to the Hells Angels or Rock Machine. But in 1995 an 11-year-old boy was killed by a biker bomb in Montreal, sparking a public outcry for a crackdown on the gangs. Two prison guards were gunned down on the street late last year in what police said were public assassinations aimed at intimidating security authorities. In the latest attacks, which police called a ``settling of accounts,'' two men linked to the Rock Machine were shot to death almost simultaneously in two different Montreal suburbs last week. The killings occurred as police were conducting raids against suspected drug dealers south of the city. With some leaders of the warring gangs languishing in jail and remnants of the Rock Machine seeking to join the Hells Angels' longtime sworn enemies, the Texas-based Bandidos, police are gearing up for the next blowup in the deadly war. ``What is at stake is the control of the illicit drug trade and all related things where a profit could be made,'' said Sgt. Guy Ouellette, a biker gang specialist with the provincial police force Surete du Quebec.
 
HELLS ANGELS HIERARCHY DESIGNED FOR VIOLENT CONFLICT The Bandidos' arrival in Quebec would be that group's first incursion into Canada, similar to the move the Oakland, California-based Hells Angels made in 1977 when they absorbed local biker gangs and established a firm foothold in Quebec. Ouellette, a member of the ``Carcajou'' (Wolverine) anti-gang squad formed in 1995 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Surete and Montreal police, said the Hells Angels now have 98 members in Quebec, including 13 ``prospects'' who must commit sometimes violent crimes to work their way up the ranks and earn the right to wear the gang's colors. Across Canada, the Hells Angels have 245 members and are omnipresent in every province except Ontario and tiny Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland off the Atlantic coast. The gang controls a much greater number of crime associates who are involved in a wide range of illegal activities, especially the lucrative distribution of illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin and marijuana grown in hydroponic greenhouses. Through indirectly owned bars and strip clubs, for example, they control a portion of the drug trade in Ontario, Canada's most populous province. A strict hierarchy of allies allows the Hells Angels to draw on an extensive network of criminals referred to as ``friends,'' ``hangarounds'' and ``prospects.'' ``Each of these gangs has branches in which you find teams of hitmen,'' said Jean-Paul Brodeur, a criminologist at Universite de Montreal. ``The biker gangs here are violent because they are organized to deliver that kind of war.'' In one of the most notorious incidents, seen as a very public warning to the biker fraternity, the Hells Angels wiped out their own five-member chapter north of Montreal in 1995. The victim's bodies were wrapped in sleeping bags, weighed down with chains and thrown into the St. Lawrence River near Sorel. ``To a degree, they use certain practices of international terrorism such as visibility and intimidation, whereas traditional organized crime groups like the Mafia are more discreet,'' Brodeur said. According to the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, the Hells Angels are the most powerful and best organized of 38 outlaw motorcycle gangs in Canada. They are affiliated with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corp., created in California in 1947. The Hells Angels are an international organized crime syndicate with some 125 chapters in 22 countries. They even have an Internet Web site where supporters can buy T-shirts and patches carrying the trademark ``death head'' logo.
 
POLICE MONITOR HELLS ANGELS' EXPANSION Driven by their Quebec and British Columbia chapters, which authorities say are among the world's wealthiest, the gang is building a network across Canada. Police expect the Rebels, a prospect club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, will soon become full-fledged members of the Hells Angels. During a ``Canada Run'' in late July, Hells Angels from Canada and the United States gathered in the Vancouver area to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the three B.C. chapters and the first anniversary of two Alberta groups. Police arrested several Hells Angels, including some from the United States who have criminal records and crossed into Canada illegally. In Quebec, a small group of Hells Angels have directed a four-year campaign of violence against the Rock Machine, a much more loosely organized group of crime families from Montreal's east end. Some of the conflict's main players are now in jail, including Maurice ``Mom'' Boucher, who is accused of ordering the assassination of the two Quebec prison guards. Some of the arrests were made under Canada's still-untested anti-gang law that widens police surveillance powers and allows authorities to seize the proceeds of organized crime activity. Police are frustrated by their lack of success in the courts. In mid-July, five men were acquitted in the 1997 murder of a Rock Machine member and have since been promoted in the Hells Angels hierarchy. Montreal police pulled out of the Wolverine squad this year, citing budget constraints and raising concerns about complacency by public officials. But police warn the conflict between the Hells Angels and rival biker gangs has not ended. Said the Surete's Ouellette: ``This time, instead of a gang war, it will be a real biker war.''
 
^REUTERS@





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