Manitoba Hells Angels president compares 'no gang colour' policy to discrimination under the Indian Act
Gang's online targeting of Winnipeg businesses has 'menacing overtone,' may violate the law, says lawyer
The president of the Manitoba Nomads, a local chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, is comparing a Winnipeg business's "no gang colour" policy — which resulted in customers wearing the biker gang's trademark logos being turned away — to the discrimination Indigenous Canadians faced under the Indian Act.
But a Toronto-based lawyer and author says it's the gang that may be breaking the law, through their recent online targeting of the businesses.
"This treatment of Canadians was wrong then and it's wrong now," Nomads president Dale Kelland wrote on his Facebook page, where he cited an 1884 amendment to the Indian Act that made it a felony for Indigenous people to enter a licensed establishement.
A number of local Indigenous organizations declined to comment on Kelland's claims.
Kelland is better known as Dale Donovan — a full-patch Hells Angel, the highest rank in the gang — who's been convicted of a number of crimes including conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and trying to recruit gang members into a criminal organization. In 2009 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in a drug trafficking operation.
Kelland didn't respond to multiple CBC News requests for an interview about the online campaign he launched against two local businesses he believed had a "no gang colours" policy.
As CBC News recently reported, he urged members to boycott businesses that had turned away those wearing gang colours, and urged them to leave one-star reviews of the businesses on social media.
The Nomads president has now taken to social media to rally members in support of his calls to end what he called "discrimination."
"I don't think the Hells Angels are gonna get very far with that," said Warren Kinsella, a visiting professor in the University of Calgary's faculty of law.
But Kinsella, who is a Toronto-based lawyer and author, said businesses have the right to exclude anyone from their establishments.
"That right exists … [but] they're not allowed to do that on the basis of race or religion or disability or something like that," said Kinsella.
'A bad review on steroids'
Kinsella had never heard of a criminal organization banding together to give businesses one-star reviews on social media. He said while that might appear almost comical, it's not.
"This is not just a bad review, it's a bad review on steroids. It has a menacing overtone," he said.
He said words have different meanings coming out of different mouths, recalling an incident several years ago outside an Ottawa courthouse.
Kinsella had testified at a hate trial. As he was walking out of the courthouse with police, a skinhead walked by and said Kinsella's home address.
"That's all he said — he didn't say anything else."
Kinsella said police phoned him that night and told him they were arresting the skinhead because his words amounted to a threat.
He wonders if the Hells Angels' social media attacks on the Manitoba businesses could also be considered a crime.
"I think the emotional and psychological impact of hundreds of Hells Angels members going after your business, even if they're not standing there in the lobby — you know, wearing their leather jackets and looking threatening — even if they're not doing that, I would imagine for these businesses it is quite intimidating and quite upsetting," said Kinsella.
He said police in Winnipeg should take a hard look at Kelland and the other Hells Angels who posted reviews, because if they did it to threaten or intimidate a business, their actions won't be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"What if this is not just a one off? What if this is the beginning of a strategy for these guys? It's a strategy that could have an impact on a lot of people's bottom line," Kinsella said.
"If it's the beginning of a trend, it's something that people in politics, and bureaucrats and police and the Crown need to look at, to see if this is the start of something far more sinister."
Legislative toolkit exists: Prosecutor
Mike Desautels, supervising senior Crown in the Manitoba Prosecution Service's criminal organization unit, said the province has the legislative toolkit to go after gang members.
"In this sense it isn't about adding more offences to the Criminal Code. We have to use the provisions that we have and that is largely dependent on the nature and quality of the evidence that we have available," he said.
Desautels worked on a number of cases involving gang members and said section 467 of the Criminal Code sets out the offences designed to combat criminal organizations.
"A person can be convicted of some of the criminal-organization offences without actually being proven to be a member of the criminal organization — an association is enough," he said.
In 2010 the province seized the Hells Angels' clubhouse in Winnipeg under the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act, and later sold it.
Last year, a judge gave police permission to destroy the contents found within it, including 100 Hells Angels Winnipeg greeting cards, T-shirts and ball caps.
A spokesperson for Canada's Department of Justice said last October a private member's bill (Bill C-349) was defeated in Parliament that would have made it a criminal offence to wear the emblem of a listed criminal organization.
"There are no plans at this time to amend the Criminal Code in this regard," the spokesperson said in an email.
Canada's Criminal Code lists four specific organized-crime offences, according to a justice department spokesperson:
- Participating in the activities of a criminal organization (section 467.11).
- Recruitment of members for a criminal organization (section 467.111).
- Commission of an offence for a criminal organization (section 467.12).
- Instructing the commission of an offence for a criminal organization (section 467.13).
Other criminal offences, including extortion (section 346) and intimidation (section 423) can be used to address organized crime activity.
The fact that an offence involves organized crime has further implications under the Criminal Code, including these:
- The courts must consider as an aggravating factor for sentencing that a crime was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization.
- All murders connected to organized crime are automatically treated as first-degree murder, regardless of whether they were planned and deliberate.
- An accused charged with an offence involving organized crime must justify why his release from custody, pending trial, is warranted.
- Increased maximum and mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for certain offences committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with organized crime.
- The forfeiture of proceeds of crime unless the offender can demonstrate that the property is not derived from organized criminal activity.
Source: Department of Justice