A stunning police sweep that targeted high-ranking Hells Angels members in Quebec and New Brunswick has dealt a significant blow to the biker gang's illicit activities in Eastern Canada, police said.
Authorities picked up 123 people, including 111 full-patch members of the notorious biker network, during early-morning raids Wednesday across Quebec and New Brunswick.
Suspected Hells Angels members were also arrested in France and the Dominican Republic.
Operation SharQC zoned in on the biker gang's leadership, effectively crippling the East Coast organization's operations, said Steven Chabot, deputy director general for the Quebec provincial police.
"For almost 20 years now, the Hells Angels of Quebec trafficked drugs, committed criminal acts — including murder — and this in an effort to increase the size and the wealth of their territories," he told reporters at a news conference in Montreal on Thursday.
"With SharQC 2009, our objectives were to prosecute nearly all the [Hells Angels] of Quebec and their main collaborators, and to bring them before court — as well as dismantle their five chapters and seize their headquarters."
RCMP and Quebec provincial police said the arrests were the culmination of more than 80 investigations going back to 1995.
20 police forces execute warrants
More than 1,200 officers from about 20 municipal, provincial and federal police forces executed the arrest and search warrants Wednesday.
They seized $5 million in cash, dozens of kilograms of cocaine, marijuana and hashish, and thousands of pills, "effectively removing these drugs from our streets," Chabot said.
Suspects were arraigned via videoconference late Wednesday at the Gouin Courthouse in Montreal, many wearing Hells Angels clothing — including one person who wore a T-shirt that read "Hells forever."
Most of the people arrested Wednesday were formally charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, gangsterism or drug trafficking.
Twenty-two first-degree murder charges were brought forth Wednesday, each one implicating a long list of suspects arrested in the raids.
Hard drives held for evidence
The alleged crimes date back to 1992 and relate to Quebec's bloody biker war, said Marc Cigana, one of 11 Crown prosecutors assigned to the case.
"These [alleged] murders were committed in the context of what is known commonly as the biker wars that spanned from 1994 to 2002," Cigana told CBC News.
"We the Crown team believe that we have evidence to prove the involvement, either directly or indirectly, of these individuals [in] the murder charges you've seen, as well as the conspiracy to commit murder."
Lawyers working on the case were handed an external hard drive containing evidence collected during the investigation.
Suspects arraigned Wednesday will return to court for a pro-forma hearing April 24. They will remain in custody pending their bail hearings.
Wednesday's police raids followed up on a roundup in 2001 dubbed Spring Time, when several suspected Hells Angels members were arrested, including Maurice (Mom) Boucher, presumed leader of Montreal's chapter.
Boucher is serving a life sentence for the 1997 shooting deaths of two prison guards.