Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the Justice Committee, my name is Serge Vandal and I am a Lieutenant and Operational Assistant with the Criminal Intelligence Projects Service at the Criminal Intelligence Branch of the Sûreté du Québec. I am appearing today as an expert on criminal biker gangs, at the request of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. My expertise in this area has been considered to be just that by various courts of law before which I have been called to testify in recent years.
With me today is Chief Inspector Jocelyn Latulippe, from the Sûreté du Québec, who is the Joint Chair of the Organized Crime Committee of the CACP, as well as Mr. Francis Brabant, Legal Advisor to the Assistant Director General of Criminal Investigations at the Sûreté du Québec. I would also like to take this opportunity to convey the greetings of the President of the CACP, Mr. Steven Chabot, who is the Assistant Director General with responsibility for the overall criminal investigations function at the Sûreté du Québec.
Under a Memorandum of Understanding with the various police services, the Criminal Intelligence Branch of the Sûreté du Québec is responsible for collecting and analyzing information relating to criminal biker gangs, as active sources of organized crime across Quebec. So, I am an enthusiastic participant in this study that has been undertaken by the Committee, with a view to seeing certain groups declared criminal organizations.
I think it is appropriate to state, right at the outset, that I share the concerns expressed by Chief Inspector Jocelyn Latulippe when he appeared before this Committee. In order for the various parts of our judicial system to work as they should, there is now a need to find a solution which would reduce the endless proceedings aimed at establishing the criminal nature of an organization, when that exercise has already been carried out successfully.
Our position on this—and we are certainly in favour of developing a list and automatically including at least five recognized criminal biker groups on that list—rests on a rationale that addresses three separate themes.
First of all, we will talk about the context in which these criminal organization came to set up shop here in Canada and the disputes generated by criminal expansion plans. Second, we will outline the method of operation of such organizations, and finally, look at the question of membership in an organization as a tool of intimidation.
In terms of the establishment here in Canada of biker gangs that operate on an international scale, it was only in the late 1970s that Canada saw the internationalization of regionally-based biker gangs. It was through the merger of existing gangs that international organizations gradually set up operations here in Canada. Taking advantage of dissent within the Satan's Choice biker gang, the Outlaws group, originally from the United States, became the first biker gang of international scope to have an official base in Canada. That breakthrough took place in the summer of 1977 with its establishment in Ontario and Quebec. Composed of members of Satan's Choice, that group was to completely disappear from Quebec in the early 1990s following a bloody offensive against them by the Hells Angels.
The American Hells Angels organization, founded in 1948, made its official entry into Canada in December of 1977. Bringing in 30 or so members from the Popeyes, they formed their first Canadian chapter in Montreal. That organization, which now has branches in six Canadian provinces, is also responsible for the disappearance of the Quebec Rock Machine gang. That criminal group, which was established in September of 1990, would be responsible for the arrival in Canada of the Bandidos ten years afterwards.
When the Rock Machine saw its organization weakening, following some arrests as well as multiple attacks against its members by the Hells Angels, it decided to approach the Bandidos with a view to merging with that international organization.
So it was that in November of 2000 the Rock Machine and the Bandidos officially formed an alliance. However, that attempt to establish themselves in Quebec was to be short-lived. Indeed, less than two years after it became a reality, the two Quebec chapters were dissolved in June of 2003.
Through the violence provoked by their expansion plans, the Hells Angels in Quebec had achieved their goal: to retain supremacy in Canada among criminal biker gangs. Recently, the American biker organization the Mongols has shown an interest in expanding into Canada. Recent intelligence supports that assertion. Therefore, in the wake of this brief overview of these criminal organizations, it is very important for the Committee to understand the need to target a limited number of international biker gangs through legislative amendments.
I would now like to move on to address the criminal biker gangs themselves and their sense of democracy. Beyond the rituals and certain observable characteristics associated with its method of operation, the Hells Angels biker gang demonstrates, in a vast amount of documentation, a clear consistency across its sub-groups, which are designated as “chapters”. These individual groupings or chapters constitute an indissociable part of the whole—in other words, the international organization. More than once, police actions undertaken in various countries have resulted in the discovery of documents showing that chapters of the Hells Angels, located in 30 or more countries across the globe, are governed by a certain number of rules that have been adopted by their members over the years. In themselves, these rules show not only that we are dealing with a single organization, wherever it may be located in the world, but also that the individual member is part and parcel of the process, and personally participates in all the decisions made collectively by the group. Although this is not stated in their minutes of meetings, it is clear that all the members are asked to vote on criminal plans and projects, whether it is how the territories are to be divided up or murders to be committed.
Based on that reality and considering court rulings that could, at the very least, be called ambiguous, there is reason to wonder about the relevance of requiring, in cases involving members of such organizations, that an exercise intended to demonstrate the essentially criminal nature of the group's activities be repeated over and over again. In that connection, I will be pleased to answer any of the Committee's questions by providing factual examples, if the Committee deems that appropriate.
I would now like to talk about insignia and symbols of terror. The main advantage of becoming a member of a criminal biker gang is the right to wear an emblem that inspires terror.
That fact, well-known in police circles for many years now, was confirmed in a recent decision on a motion to confiscate property seized by law enforcement officers.
In his decision, the judge states that, in 2007, “the evidence clearly shows that individuals who wear them (jackets and emblems) use them as a means of intimidation, to show their connection with the Hells Angels organization, which is renowned for its strength and its violence”. That investigation, which was completed in 1997, allowed police to confiscate a building used as a fortified club house that belonged to the Hells Angels.
In criminal circles, this is a reality that the players have to deal with when they decide to get involved.
That is certainly not the case for the population as a whole. At the same time, situations have arisen that show that bikers do not hesitate to use their methods—namely, intimidation and violence—to convince any one and every one who presents an obstacle.
In Quebec in particular, that strategy has been used against individuals, merchants and business people who were competing with bikers seeking to gain a monopoly in certain legal markets.
Some cases indicate that the use of one's membership in a criminal gang, with a view to facilitating the commission of a crime, goes even further. An example of that is a sexual predator, with no known connection to the gang, who claimed to be a member of the Rock Machine in order to force his victims to remain silent.
These examples are part of only a brief overview of some of the benefits of belonging to, and identifying with, a criminal organization. Multiple incidents that have occurred in Canada lend credence to that argument. Additional details can be provided about these factual situations, if required.
On behalf of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, I would like to thank Committee members for their kind attention. I am now available to take your questions.