CANADA

Montreal mayhem

Biker gang violence claims innocent victims

BARRY CAME August 21 1995
CANADA

Montreal mayhem

Biker gang violence claims innocent victims

BARRY CAME August 21 1995

Montreal mayhem

Biker gang violence claims innocent victims

The vehicle, a black Jeep Renegade, exploded shortly after noon, catching 10-year-old Yan Villeneuve and his best friend, Daniel Desrochers, 11, at the wrong time in the wrong place. Like youngsters almost anywhere with not much to do on a hot summer day, the pair were just hanging out on the narrow lawn beside the Saint-Nom-de-Jésus elementary school on tree-lined Rue Adam in Montreal’s east end. “All of a sudden, I heard a great big boom and I saw this guy flying through the air,” recalled Yan, a quake in his voice, tears welling in his blue eyes. “I turned around and that’s when I saw Daniel lying on the ground. He wasn’t moving. Part of his head was on the grass beside me. I got scared and ran home to my Mom.”

Montreal’s murderous biker wars, waged for control of the city’s flourishing drug traffic, escalated dramatically last week. The remotecontrolled bomb that blew apart the Jeep on Aug. 9 also sent Marc Dubé, whom police described as a 26-year-old drug dealer, hurling through the air. Sheared in half by the blast, Dubé later died in hospital.The following day, at around 2 p.m., a tall, dark-skinned gunman wielding two pistols walked into a store operated by a local biker gang, the Rock Machine, less than a kilometre away from the Jeep explosion. He shot customer Luc Deshaies, 44, in the head and chest, killing him instantly. He also fired two bullets into the abdomen of the store’s manager, 28-year-old Guillaume Prost, who remained in critical but stable condition in hospital at week’s end.

The violence marked the latest clash be-

tween two warring groups: the local chapters of the Hell’s Angels and the Rock Machine. Over the last year, that dispute had already cost eight lives in the Montreal area, 21 others elsewhere in Quebec and several more beyond. All of the previous victims had been directly linked to one of the biker gangs. But last week, the bloodshed reached out to ensnare its first two innocent bystanders, Yan and his young friend Daniel, who were across the street on Rue Adam when the Jeep exploded.

Of the two, Yan was more fortunate. After the vehicle blew up, he escaped with minor cuts to his legs, arms and stomach. But well within sight of whoever detonated the explosion, Daniel Desrochers was trapped in a shower of lethal debris as he played with his

friend. A three-centimetre-long piece of metal tore through the boy’s brain, entering behind his left ear and lodging against the right side of his skull inside his head. It took surgeons three-anda-half hours to remove the metal shard. Late last week, Daniel was still clinging to life, but the prognosis was poor. “The probability of survival is not high,” said neurosurgeon Mario Séguin after he performed the operation. And even if Daniel survives, doctors said he is likely to suffer irreparable brain damage.

For the record, Montreal police refused to draw a connection between the two events that unsettled Montreal last week. “It’s too early to make a link,” said Detective-Lieutenant Claude Lachapelle, in charge of the Montreal Urban Community police force’s homicide squad. But off the record, police speculated that the two incidents were clearly related to the biker war that has raged since last fall. The fighting broke out when the Hell’s Angels attempted to seize a share of the lucrative drug trade in Montreal’s working-class neighborhoods that had previously been under the control of the Rock Machine. What is more, senior police spokesmen frankly admitted that the situation is quickly growing beyond their control. “I would be lying if I said there would be no more bombs and no more victims,” said Deputy Chief Pierre Sangollo, director of the police department’s special investigations unit. “If I put 100 more cops on the street tomorrow, it wouldn’t solve the problem. It hurts me to say that, but it’s true.”

The deputy chief held a news conference to demand that judges hand down stiffer sentences, especially for those charged with possession of explosives. He called on Ottawa to enact anti-gang laws. And he asked the general public to refrain from using illicit drugs. “Everyone who smokes a joint or does a line of cocaine is part of the problem,” Sangollo asserted. “If there were no consumers, there would not be millions of dollars to be made.” No matter how well-intentioned the plea, Sangollo’s words offered little comfort to the uneasy residents of the Montreal neighborhoods afflicted by gang violence. In an effort to calm those fears, Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque visited the families of the two young boys. “I encouraged them to keep faith in their district, in their street, in their kids,” said Bourque. “We keep talking about full-scale action, but the time has arrived when we have to start doing something to deal with the problem.” Few of those who have to live and work on the mean streets of Montreal’s east end would disagree.

BARRY CAME