A massive police operation targeted 156 people in early-morning raids on Wednesday aimed at disrupting suspected Hells Angels drug and gang activity in Quebec and New Brunswick.
'We believe we can dismantle the infrastructure, and disrupt their abilities to use our communities to carry out their criminal activities.' —Quebec provincial police Insp. Michel Martin
The RCMP and Quebec provincial police said about 1,200 officers from several police forces were involved in 177 early-morning raids and search warrants, most of them in Quebec.
Arrests were also made in France and the Dominican Republic. Police said they had warrants for 156 people, but would not confirm how many were in custody so far because raids were still being conducted as of mid-Wednesday morning.
Police were tight-lipped about other details, but RCMP Insp. Richard Emery said the operation should send a "strong message" to criminal organizations.
"We can go beyond the borders of our country to stop the perpetrators of crimes committed in Canada," Emery told reporters. "No matter where they hide in the world, criminals can be arrested."
Key players targeted
Authorities said 111 full-patch members were picked up in the raids, and another four men arrested Wednesday were prospective members. Another 29 are believed to be associates of the criminal organization, and 11 more are retired bikers.
"The total number of full-patch members, if not the entire membership of the Hells Angels, was arrested today," said Daniel Guérin, a Laval police spokesman.
Investigators said the arrests are connected to dozens of crimes allegedly committed between 1992 and 2009, including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, drug trafficking and gangsterism.
The three-year investigation, dubbed Operation SharQC 2009 (Stratégie Hells Angels Région Québec), targeted 156 people linked to the biker gang.
The raids included the seizure of four suspected Hells Angels bunkers. Authorities also seized private property in Sorel-Tracy that was once the site of a bunker destroyed by an arson attack last year.
That will leave a huge dent in the biker gangs' activities, said Quebec provincial police Insp. Michel Martin.
"We believe we can dismantle the infrastructure, and disrupt their abilities to use our communities to carry out their criminal activities," he told CBC News.
Organized crime expert Michel Auger, a former journalist in Montreal, called Wednesday's operation against the Hells Angels a "tsunami."
"For a long period, they will be in court facing several charges," he told CBC News. "So the Hells Angels as such will be crippled for several years."
'Major player' arrested in N.B.
In New Brunswick, about 50 RCMP, Bathurst and Edmundston police officers participated in the Wednesday morning raid at residences and a business in Saint Leonard, just north of Grand Falls.
RCMP Sgt. Claude Tremblay said four men were arrested, including a "full patch" member of the Hells Angels.
"Wherever he lives — that doesn't matter. We knew that that person is a major player and one of the biggest suppliers of drugs in the Bathurst region, Campbellton, Tracadie and Edmundston," Tremblay said.
"And definitely it's going to help the population and the people in general in those cities and villages all around the province."
Tremblay said police believe the men were involved in the transport of drugs between Quebec, the United States and the Maritimes.
Police also seized a quantity of guns and drugs from the suspects, including marijuana, hashish, ecstasy and cash.
'Corridor to the Maritimes'
"New Brunswick is the corridor to the Maritimes and everything comes through our highways and we have a lot of small airports through the region," Tremblay said.
"There's a lot of trafficking going on. It's mostly related to underground crime and a lot of it is run by the Hells Angels."
"It's a very, very difficult task to charge or investigate anything to do with a crime element such as the Hells Angels," because few people are willing to testify against them, Tremblay said.
All four New Brunswick men were being flown to Quebec City Wednesday to appear before a judge.
A New Brunswick RCMP statement said the charges against the accused individuals include conspiracy to commit murder, trafficking in a controlled substance and gangsterism.
Wednesday's crackdown was similar to a 2001 operation in which 122 Hells Angels members and sympathizers were arrested in Quebec.