Canada

War on jail guards

Motorcycle gangs are suspected in two murders

BARRY CAME September 22 1997
Canada

War on jail guards

Motorcycle gangs are suspected in two murders

BARRY CAME September 22 1997

War on jail guards

Motorcycle gangs are suspected in two murders

They were on their way to breakfast at Tim Hortons, an early morning, regular-as-clockwork routine that made Pierre Rondeau and his partner easy targets. The pair of prison guards—both in uniform, neither armed—pulled up as usual at 6:25 a.m. in their bright blue bus for a mandatory stop at a level railway crossing in Montreal’s east end. At that moment, two young men in their 20s sprang from behind a clump of bushes on the quiet residential street. Each brandishing a semiautomatic pistol, they rushed directly at the bus, firing as they ran. Seven

quick shots stitched the vehicle’s windshield, following Rondeau’s path as he toppled sideways out of the driver’s seat, but missing his partner completely. One bullet

pierced the 49-year-old guard’s throat, two more struck his chest, a fourth hit his heart, killing him instantly, Rondeau’s cold-blooded murder last Mon-

day, in the words of Montreal police Chief Jacques Duchesneau, “bore all the marks of a gangland execution.” Coming on the heels of the similar killing last June of another prison guard, 42-year-old Diane Lavigne, it provoked a 24-hour wildcat strike last Wednesday at 11 of Quebec’s 18 provincially run jails by guards who fear they are becoming the latest victims in an escalating motorcycle gang war for control of the lucrative trade in illicit drugs. “These two cowardly assassinations were too well planned to be a coincidence,” claimed Réjean Lagarde, president of the 2,000member union of Quebec correctional services workers. “It is clear that organized crime is behind all of this and the finger of suspicion at the moment is pointing towards the bikers.”

Theories abound as to why the biker gangs might be responsible, ranging from an attempt to subvert the criminal justice sysem, to simple intimidation to frighten prison guards into more co-operative behavior. There are even persistent rumors that it all may be linked to new initiation rituals that require aspiring gang members to prove their mettle by killing a guard. But whatever the immediate motive, Quebec’s ever unfolding battle between the gangs for control of the drug trade is widely seen as the root cause.

For the past several years, the notorious Rock Machine, an alliance of bikers and Montreal-based criminal families, has been locked in a ferocious struggle for turf with the Hells Angels. More than 50 people have been killed in the wars, including an 11-yearold boy who died when a car bomb exploded on an east-end Montreal street. Three years ago, Quebec and federal authorities attempted to crack down on the feuding bikers by forming the Wolverine Squad, an anti-gang unit composed of members of the Montreal police department, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec. The Wolverines have managed to chalk up some successes. But, in the process, they also appear to have moved the bikers’ battles from Quebec’s streets to behind the province’s prison walls.

“Doing time has become just another way of doing crime,” said Université de Montréal criminologist Jean-Paul Brodeur. He is especially critical of what he describes as the “porous” Quebec provincial prison system, which allows incarcerated bikers to continue to wage their turf battles for control of the drug trade, both inside the prisons as well as on the street. It is significant, Brodeur argues, that neither of the murdered guards were employed at any of Quebec’s 12 high-security federal prisons. Instead, they worked in the provincial system, reserved for inmates serving sentences of two years or less. “These are minimum-security institutions,” Brodeur noted. “There’s a lot of traffic going in and out and that makes it easier to obtain drugs, pass messages—and try to intimidate some guards who may not be as co-operative as others.”

The guards themselves do not disagree. “It’s easier to get into a prison around here than it is a university,” complained union president Lagarde. The union, in fact, has been warning Quebec’s public security ministry for the past two years about deteriorating conditions inside the prisons, with increasing clashes between rival gangs of imprisoned bikers. The situation is particularly grave at Quebec’s new $4i>million Rivière des Prairies detention centre in northeastern Montreal, where 400 short-term prisoners, many of them bikers, are incarcerated. Last March, a fight there between Hells Angels and Rock Machine members nearly escalated into a full-blown riot. In April, three homemade firebombs—softdrink cans stuffed with crushed glass, battery acid and sulphur from matches—exploded in the prison yard and a fourth was found ready for use in a cell occupied by a Rock Machine inmate.

Along with the rising violence, there have been increasing attempts at intimidation. “Learning to live with threats on the job is one thing,” said Lagarde. “But it is something else to deal with the same thing outside.” In an effort to meet the guards’ concerns—and coax them back to work—the Quebec government last week agreed to implement sweeping new security measures, providing the guards with sidearms, bulletproof vests and police escorts when they are on duty outside the prisons.

While that resolved the immediate crisis, it did not attack the underlying problem. No Quebec official suggested that either of the two murdered guards was killed in direct personal retaliation. Rather, the authorities claim that it was the uniform both were wearing at the time of their deaths that was the real target. Diane Lavigne was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle as she drove home from work at Montreal’s Bordeaux jail. Pierre Rondeau and his partner were attacked as they were about to stop for breakfast before travelling on to pick up a busload of prisoners at Rivière des Prairies. Lavigne’s killers, despite the posting of a $100,000 reward, have yet to be arrested. Rondeau’s assassins, too, remain unknown. “These were premeditated crimes, committed by professionals, whose goal is the destabilization of our judicial system,” argued Quebec Public Security Minister Pierre Bélanger. If that is true, the campaign of fear appears to be working.

BARRY CAME

Montreal