Hundreds of Hells Angels expected in St-Hyacinthe this week

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It is a way for them to plant their flag and show off their colours. ... It is also a chance for us to show off our colours," the SQ says.

Anywhere between five and seven hundred people tied to the Hells Angels are expected to roll into St-Hyacinthe this week for what could turn out to be the biker gang’s largest gathering in Canada.

The annual get-together, which the gang calls their Canada Run, is traditionally a peaceful event that some bikers have even brought their children to. But the police believe the Canada Run serves as a way for the Hells Angels, considered to be the most powerful criminal organization in Quebec, to remind their rivals and the public in general that the gang is alive and well in Canada.

Hells Angels members from across the country were at the Hells Angels Canada Run annual convention taking place at the Carlsbad Springs Clubhouse Saturday July 23, 2016. Ashley Fraser / Postmedia News

“It is a way for them to plant their flag and show off their colours. I like to say it is also a chance for us to show off our colours as well,” Sûreté du Québec Inspector Guy Lapointe told the Montreal Gazette as the police prepare for Aug. 9, when the gang’s 500 full-patch members in Canada (including roughly 80 based in Quebec) and as many as 200 of their associates are expected to show up in St-Hyacinthe, a town with a population of 55,000 best known as Quebec’s agricultural centre.

Brigitte Massé, a spokesperson for St-Hyacinthe, said Mayor Claude Corbeil is aware the biker gang plans to hold their Canada Run in the town and has discussed the matter with the SQ.

“They have told us they will be in control of the location if they do arrive,” Massé said before referring any other questions to the provincial police.

The gang’s most recent Canada Runs, in Calgary and Carlsbad Springs, Ont., were held without any major incidents reported. Police watched closely while more than 500 people were estimated to have attended both events. But the gang’s 41-year history in Quebec is soaked in blood and gang members have sometimes responded to police attention with acts of intimidation.

Lapointe said tensions between the Hells Angels and police in this province increased last year after Sûreté du Québec director Martin Prud’homme announced, in September, that the Hells Angels would be a top priority for organized crime investigators because the gang is now believed to have almost complete control over drug trafficking in this province.

“We’ve been turning up the pressure since 2017,” Lapointe said, estimating the gang is involved in between 95 and 98 per cent of drug trafficking in the province.

The renewed focus on the gang produced results in April, when a drug trafficking investigation dubbed Project Objection resulted in charges being filed against 79 people, including four full-patch members of the Hells Angels. During a press conference held as arrests were still being made, Lapointe said Project Objection “dismantled three of the biggest drug trafficking networks in Quebec.”

Guy Lapointe Sr., left, his wife Louise, and Guy Lapointe Jr., top right, watch as the former Canadien’s number raised to the top of the Bell Centre on Nov. 8, 2014. A letter threatening the two Guy Lapointes was received by the SQ, the Journal de Montréal reported last month. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

In his interview with the Montreal Gazette, Lapointe said tension between the biker gang and police has remained steady since 2017 because of the pressure applied by police. But he disagreed that recent events are a sign things are getting more heated. Last month, the Journal de Montréal reported that on July 19, the SQ received a letter, believed to have been penned by someone tied to the gang, that made threats toward Lapointe and his famous father, former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Guy Lapointe Sr., a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame whose number 5 hangs in the rafters of the Bell Centre.

On July 20, Martin Gamache, 47, a member of the gang’s Quebec City chapter since 2004, posted a video on his Facebook page that appears to show him and other people involved in a heated exchange with a uniformed member of the SQ after they were apparently pulled over on a highway. The police officer is seen holding a Taser while repeatedly ordering the group to back up so he could inspect a motorcycle. In his posting, Gamache wrote that the officer “wanted to tase me for nothing.”

Lapointe said the origin of the threats sent to the SQ have yet to be established and that media reports on the letter and Gamache’s posting might have created a false impression that tensions are escalating when, in his opinion, the tension level has remained steady since last fall. He said this was anticipated considering how no criminal organization would enjoy having the police paying more attention to them.

Lapointe said that beginning around 2016, when the Canada Run was hosted in Carlsbad Springs, on property the gang owns just a short drive from Ottawa, police noticed what they now refer to as the “Sons of Anarchy phenomenon.” It is a reference to an American television drama that originally aired between 2008 and 2014 and depicted a fictional gang based in California.

When some Hells Angels went sight-seeing on Parliament Hill in 2016, other tourists asked to pose with them in photos. Lapointe said things like that are an indication the televised drama has made the biker lifestyle depicted in it attractive to some, in particular the notion that such gangs offer a sense of a brotherhood.

“People tend to lose track of who (the Hells Angels) are. We want people to realize what they have done and who they really are,” Lapointe said. “This isn’t a TV show. This is real life.”

Hells Angels members ride along 84 St. toward the Hells Angels’ clubhouse on Friday, July 21, 2017, in Calgary. Britton Ledingham / Airdrie Echo

Carlo Morselli, a criminology professor at Université de Montréal and an expert on social networks and organized crime, said events like the biker gang’s Canada Run and how Hells Angels show up in huge numbers for the funerals of fellow gang members can serve as a promotional tool.

“It shows a sense of unity and it shows a sense of being part of something big. That can be attractive to someone in their 20s who is missing something like that in their life,” Morselli said.

“But (the Canada Run) should also be like candy to the police. It will be a good chance to gather intelligence for the police.”

Lapointe confirmed that part of the police presence expected in St-Hyacinthe when the Hells Angels show up will involve collecting information that could eventually be used in court. For example, photos taken by police at such events are often used in gangsterism cases as evidence of a biker’s status within the gang. A complete set of patches on a gang member’s leather jacket or vest, complete with the gang’s death-head logo, is generally accepted in Canadian courts as evidence that an accused is a full-patch member.

“That’s always been the problem with the Hells Angels. They can’t be discreet and keep quiet,” Morselli said.

Despite the lack of discretion, the Hells Angels in Quebec have survived several police crackdowns since the first Canadian chapter, Montreal, was chartered in 1977. The choice of Quebec for this year’s Canada Run is intriguing. While this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Quebec City chapter, the gathering in St-Hyacinthe might be a continuation of how the gang has made itself more visible in this province in recent years after they managed to unfreeze their five Quebec chapters in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City and the South chapter on the South Shore of Montreal.

Project SharQc, an investigation the resulted in the roundup 111 full-patch Hells Angels (almost every member of the gang based in Quebec) in April 2009, left the five chapters in this province in a form of limbo for years. According to the gang’s own internal rules: “Charters are required to have a minimum of six members. (On the street.)” In September 2013, an SQ expert on the biker gang who testified before the Charbonneau Commission confirmed that Project SharQc left all five chapters “frozen” at that point.

SharQc was primarily based on evidence that almost all of the Hells Angels in Quebec were part of a general conspiracy to murder their rivals in this province during a conflict that ran between 1994 and 2002. Many of the Hells Angels charged in the case pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy, served their sentences and have returned to “the street” in recent years. That and the recruitment of new members defrosted the chapters.

The last time the Canada Run was held in Quebec was during the summer of 2008, just months before arrests were made in Project SharQc. Hundreds of gang members and their associates reserved a camping ground in St-Pie, a small town 75 kilometre east of Montreal and a short distance from St-Hyacinthe.

“We have a tendency to underestimate the Hells Angels,” Morselli said, recalling that in the 1980s police and some experts believed the gang wouldn’t last in Quebec.

“Every time that we think we have taken them down they have come back. There are a lot of people who associate with them because of that.

“They have a good brand. This is one resilient group.”

At the start of 2000, the Hells Angels had 18 chapters in Canada. At the end of the same year, hundreds of Hells Angels turned up in Sorel to celebrate the creation of 10 new chapters based in Ontario. The expansion was spearheaded by influential members of the Hells Angels based in Quebec. According to the gang’s website, there are now 42 chapters in Canada and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are considered “prospect provinces.”

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