Businesses, Manitobans should rally behind shops targeted by Hells Angels with 1-star reviews: police union
'Criminal organizations rely on intimidation. That's their first step,' says police union vice-president
The Winnipeg Police Association is commending a local business that enforced a policy barring patrons from wearing gang colours and logos last month and is calling on other businesses to do the same.
Two weeks ago Dale Kelland, the president of the Manitoba Nomads, a local chapter of the Hells Angels, launched an online boycott of two businesses he said discriminated against his gang members.
Hundreds of bikers and their friends then took to social media to give the Headingley Sport Shop Ltd./Indian Motorcycle Winnipeg, and the Marion Hotel one-star reviews.
Van Mackelberg said publicizing intimidation tactics is a good thing.
"Many organizations, criminal organizations rely on intimidation. That's their first step. And you'll never get out from underneath them if you knuckle," said Van Mackelberg. "The worst thing that can happen to organizations like this is to have a spotlight shone on them. It'll eventually affect their illegal businesses and activity."
Kelland is a full-patch Hells Angel — the highest rank in the gang — and is widely believed to be the president of one of two Manitoba chapters of the gang. He is better known as Dale Donovan.
In 2009, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in a drug trafficking operation and for trying to recruit gang members into a criminal organization.
CBC News reached out to Kelland and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. The messages were not returned. None of the businesses he targeted in the online campaign would comment.
Online attack a form of 'mobbing'
Kelland first targeted the Headingley Sport Shop Ltd./Indian Motorcycle Winnipeg, which was scheduled to be the starting point for a charity ride. He had taken issue with an online post made by the event's organizer stating no gang colours were allowed at the ride.
Hundreds of people flocked to the bike shop's Facebook page and posted one-star reviews, but Kelland later instructed them to change their ratings to five stars after the store pulled out of the charity ride — which they did.
Hundreds of negative reviews were posted on the restaurants Facebook page and ratings dropped from 4.5 stars to three overnight.
"The Marion and the Marion Street Eatery have always been very supportive of the motorcycle community in the city and they have been for 25 years," said Van Mackelberg. "I think it's a shame that an organization that's trying to mask itself ... would pick on a business that's done very well for the community. It's a shame."
"It's disturbing that an army of sorts was marshalled against this business based on what seems to have been a single 'perceived offence'," said Sameer Hinduja, a co-director of the U.S. Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University.
The cyberbullying expert says the businesses may be able to pursue the matter in civil court, though it would be costly, and they may be able to get the onslaught of bad reviews taken down.
"I would call it 'mobbing,' a form of cyberbullying. And I would contact [Facebook] to see if they can address the madness," said Hinduja.
Gang membership has consequences, police group
Van Mackelberg would like to see Winnipeggers rally behind the Marion Hotel and Eatery and counter the Hells Angels online attacks.
"That's where this group is choosing to fight the battle so I would encourage anyone that's ever been there, that's received good service to go on TripAdvisor. ... If their experience has been good to let them know," he said.
Before he was a police officer, Van Mackelberg served in the Canadian military and said he believes strongly in this country's rights and freedoms. But he said if people choose to join a criminal organization like the Hells Angels, they have to accept the consequences.
"Citizens are always going to choose to belong to different groups, and that is their right ... but you ought not be surprised if that comes with a price."
Police union calls for anti-racketeering laws
The police union is also calling for Canadian laws to get tougher on criminal organizations like the Hells Angels.
"I'd like to see an anti-racketeering law that puts reverse onus on organizations and their members to prove that they're not members of that organization," said Van Mackelberg.
In 2009, Manitoba created the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act to seize items believed to have been purchased with the proceeds of crime. A provincial spokesperson said Manitoba Justice has since seized almost $14 million worth of items, much of which goes toward the Victims Assistance Fund and law enforcement agencies.
"Manitoba has tried. We have the proceeds of crime unit … the Hells Angels lost the clubhouse to them, 'cause they're a criminal organization. That's what they are," Van Mackelberg said.
Van Mackelberg wants our laws to go even further and hopes Canadian law makers will take a page out of their counterparts south of the border.
In the United States, a federal law called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) allows the courts to hand down 20-year prison sentences and impose fines of up to $25,000 on people convicted of racketeering.
Manitoba's Justice Minister said she was open to discussing the police union's concerns.
"The threat of violence and criminal activity posed by gangs and organized crime is something we take very seriously and we will continue to work with law enforcement to build safer communities for Manitobans," Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement to CBC News.