For the past three months, a special Quebec police squad aimed at combatting criminal activities by the province’s motorcycle gangs has conducted a series of raids on biker clubhouses in and around Montreal. The squad has seized a wide array of arsenal, including explosives, submachine guns and semi-automatic pistols, and made a number of high-profile arrests—including, most recently, charging well-known Hells Angels lawyer Gilles Daudelin with conspiring to commit murder. The squad is attempting to quell a bloody turf war between the Rock Machine and their archrivals, the Hells Angels—a feud that has led to to several bombings in the Montreal area and the loss of 28 lives over the past 18 months. One keen observer of the Quebec battleground is Daniel Wolf 45, a professor of anthropology at the University of Prince Edward Island and the author of the 1991 book The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers. To research that book, the Calgary-born Wolf spent three years riding with an Edmonton biker gang, the Rebels.
Wolf has stayed in close contact with sources in the biker gangs—and with the police forces that deal with them. Here, he reflects on the history behind the Quebec war and what may lie ahead.
Quebec has the dubious distinction of leading all other provinces in bikerrelated homicides—65 since 1989. But this is more than a battle for prestige and political status in the world of outlaw bikerdom. At stake are the streets of Montreal, the multimillion-dollar crown jewel of Quebec’s illicit drug trade. This helps explain why one of North America’s bloodiest gang wars is unfolding in Canada.
However, not all the major players in this contest are listed in the game program, nor are they visible on the playing field. It is a struggle that involves background support from traditional crime families on one hand, and, on the other, an ambitious plan by Hells Angels Ltd. for international domination.
The Rock Machine emerged in Quebec City and Montreal in the early 1990s. The club is a relative newcomer, but its members are all veteran campaigners, remnants of local clubs that no longer exist.
On the surface, the Rock Machine runs small-time operations like tattoo parlors and bars, as well as motorcycle repair shops. Its members conduct the more surreptitious side of their business in the shadows of street lamps and the smoke of barrooms. There they deal drugs that they have obtained from local crime families and wholesale representatives from South American cartels. In addition to being drug middlemen, they act as mercenaries for more traditional criminal organizations.
Left to its own resources, the Rock Machine would not have lasted
18 months against the Angels. But, as Quebec Public Security Minister Serge Menard has suggested, it is not acting alone. The Rock Machine has united with traditional Montreal organized crime families to form
what has come to be known on the streets as the Alliance. The crime families are funding the Rock Machine war chest in an effort to stave off the ever-increasing encroachment of their long-standing turf by Quebec’s Hells Angels, or “Les Hells.”
According to Interpol, there are currently close to 95 chapters of the Hells Angels operating in 16 different countries. The Angels first entered Canada in 1977, when they incorporated a Montreal club, then known as the Popeyes. Today, the Angels have 11 Canadian chapters—five in British Columbia, five in Quebec, and one in Halifax. Although they have fewer than 150 members in Canada, they exercise enormous criminal clout. The Angels’ Quebec operations are managed by 74 “patch holders.” These 74 Angels “fly colors” (that is, they wear a club emblem on the back of their leather jacket or vest)—with a line across the bottom that reads “Quebec.” It is a statement of the territory they claim.
None of the worldwide Angel chapters makes any major move without approval from the “mother” chapter in Oakland, Calif. In October, 1994, Les Hells decided that they wanted more of the Montreal drug street trade. With the endorsement of Sonny Barger, the unofficial world chairman and president of the Oakland chapter, the Quebec Angels put a plan in motion. Quebec Angels president Maurice (Mom) Boucher met with representatives of the Alliance to negotiate for more street territory. But the talks soon broke down and the violence began.
The use of affiliated or secondary clubs is an international trademark of the Hells Angels. The purpose of these clubs? The Angels are able to expand their domain without overextending their organization or jeopardizing their own members. Equally as important, by distancing themselves from the hands-on work of street-level distribution and enforcement, the Angels further insulate themselves from prosecution.
That helps explain an enigma that hangs over the Quebec conflict: why it is that most of the people who have died have been associates, not members, of the opposing factions? The fact is that both sides are terrorizing their enemy’s superstructure, not their kingpins. If you supply the drugs and control those who sell the drugs, then you control the city. Everyone in the criminal community knows who gets killed, under what circumstances, and why. The message on the street is that if you are a drug dealer and buying your product from the Rock Machine, there is a chance that you are going to wake up the next morning and find an Angel in your backyard. Although club members may be willing to put their lives on the line, streetlevel drug dealers are not. Both the Angels and the Rock Machine are attempting to cripple each other’s organization by taking away their source of income and power. The one notable exception to this rule was the shooting of Richard (Crow) Emond. He was likely singled out because he was chief strategist for the Hells Angels’ TroisRivières chapter. More to the point, Emond wore the “Filthy Few”
The Angels have never lost a war. And they cannot accept a draw.
patch of the Angels, an honor reserved for those who have killed for the club. On the streets, Emond was known as an accomplished assassin. He had six skulls—one for each kill—painted on the gas tank of his Harley.
Not all outlaw motorcycle clubs in Canada want to fly the infamous red and white colors featuring the Angels winged death’s-head. Several, in fact, have formed alliances whose explicit purpose is to keep the Angels out of Ontario. In terms of prestige, power and profit, that province is Canada’s greatest prize. But despite their attempts over the past 20 years, the Angels have been unable to gain a foothold there. Anti-Angel coalitions—led most notably by the Angels’ archrivals, the Outlaws—treated pro-Angel Ontario clubs with “extreme prejudice.” For example, a spokesman for the Wild Ones of Hamilton was negotiating an alliance with the Angels in 1988 when he and two Angels were shot to death in a Montreal restaurant.
But according to Staff Sgt. Jean-Pierre Lévesque of the Ottawa-based Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, it is almost certain that when—not if—the Angels secure Montreal, they will have a base from which to launch an incursion into Ontario. The time is right for the Angels to make such a move. The Outlaws have soured the anti-Angel alliance through drug deals gone bad. The RCMP have noted that the declining fortunes of the Outlaws may create a power vacuum in Ontario, one that the Angels would be all too willing to fill.
For an outlaw biker, the greatest fear is not of the police; rather, it is of a slight variation of his own mirror image: the patch holder of another I club. Under slightly different circumstances those men would call each other “brother.” But when turf is at stake, inter-club rivalry and warfare completely override any considerations of the common bonds of being a biker—and brother kills brother. None of the outlaws that I rode with enjoyed the prospect of having to break the bones of another biker. Nor did they look forward to having to live with the hate-fear syndrome that dominates a conflict in which there are no rules. I came to realize that the willingness of an outlaw to lay down his life in these conflicts goes beyond a belligerent masculinity that brooks no challenge. When a patch holder defends his colors, he defends his personal identity, his community, his lifestyle. When a war is on, loyalty to the club and one another arises out of the midst of danger, out of apprehension of possible injury, mutilation, or worse. Whether one considers this process as desperate, heroic, or just outlandishly foolish and banal does not really matter. What matters is that, for patch holders, the brotherhood emerges as a necessary feature of their continued existence as individuals and as a group.
How is the Quebec biker war likely to play out? Already, increased police action has lowered the intensity and public profile of the street battles being fought. But surveillance and arrests by themselves will not end the conflict The Hells Angels probably did not anticipate that they were getting into a prolonged conflict. They underestimated the resolve of the Rock Machine. More importantly, they did not anticipate that their rivals would win support from the traditional crime families of Montreal’s east end. But the Hells Angels have never lost a war. Nor can they any longer accept a draw. The Montreal conflict has grabbed the attention of local and international media. A truce would tarnish the intimidation factor of their image, and thereby jeopardize their plans to capture Ontario. The fighting will end when the Angels win. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.