Gangsters among 47 arrested in Operation Axe raids, police allege
2 arrests made at federal prisons
Some of the most "untouchable" people allegedly involved in the street gang underworld in Quebec and Ontario were arrested in a series of widespread raids on Thursday, police say.
By late afternoon, police officers from five agencies had executed 63 search warrants in the Montreal area and the Ottawa region during what has been billed as Operation Axe.
Insp. Bernard Lamothe of Montreal police said 47 people had been arrested — 44 men and three women.
The suspects were allegedly part of a network of groups working together to traffic drugs in the Montreal and Ottawa areas.
Twenty of the arrests were especially significant to investigators, said Lamothe.
"These individuals were considered to be almost untouchable by some of the emerging street gangs. So these arrests show that no criminal is immune," he said at an afternoon press conference.
During the operation, police seized:
- 25 weapons.
- 44 kilograms of cocaine.
- 11 kilograms of hashish.
- 225 kilograms of marijuana.
- Hundreds of pills and other medications.
- $600,000 in cash.
The individuals face charges ranging from gangsterism, to drug trafficking and possession of prohibited weapons.
The suspects are expected to appear in court starting at 8 a.m. ET on Friday.
Police operation largest in Montreal history
Police agencies had been planning Operation Axe since January 2006.
More than 700 police officers from the RCMP, Quebec provincial police, and police forces from Montreal, Laval and Longueuil were involved.
The raids began at 6 a.m. ET, and the majority of arrests had been made by midday. Police said there could be more arrests.
The raids targeted alleged members of outlaw biker and street gangs involved in the importation, distribution and sale of cocaine in the Montreal and Ottawa markets, they said.
The suspects allegedly played a role in every aspect of the drug trade.
Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafrenière said some of Thursday's arrests also included members of a street gang linked to the Hells Angels.
"You are talking about drug dealers but also a few people in charge of the trafficking. This is not just the bottom of the pyramid. We are talking about the top of it as well," said Lafrenière.
Police confirm one of the suspects taken into custody was an alleged associate of former Hells Angels boss Maurice (Mom) Boucher. Another suspect is a former champion Canadian weightlifter.
One of the arrests took place at a popular gym in the Verdun district of Montreal called Gym Expert.
Arrests send message to criminals, public: Dupuis
Quebec's public security minister Jacques Dupuis said the raids show authorities are making headway in their fight against gangs.
"There's a very serious message to all those people who would like to have the same behaviour that the police officers are after you," said Dupuis.
It also sends a message to the public at large, he said.
"It tends to give confidence to the honest population that police officers get up in the morning, and they run after the criminals."
Organized crime expert Michel Auger described the raids as impressive.
"This is a huge case before the justice system.… It will be quite exceptional when they appear before the court," said Auger, a journalist who covered organized crime for 45 years for the Journal de Montréal.