Assassinations, firebombs on rise as mobsters fight to be crowned Montreal's next godfather
Warring factions have weakened the once-mighty Montreal Mafia, experts say
Once feared and respected within the underworld, Montreal's Mafia has become a shadow of its former self as rival clans battle each other to see which Mob boss will become the city's next godfather.
The civil war within the Montreal Mob is being played out in a series of assassinations and, increasingly, firebombings of businesses linked to Mafia associates.
Police suspect Mafia activity was behind at least 13 firebombings in the greater Montreal region last year, almost double the seven they identified in 2015, said a communications officer for the Montreal police.
The latest case of Mafia-linked arson may have occurred Monday morning, when a strip mall in Laval's Vimont neighbourhood went up in flames. Police are describing the fire as "suspicious."
Among the four businesses that were destroyed was Streakz Coiffure, a hair salon owned by Caterina Miceli. Another one of Miceli's salons was firebombed last week.
Miceli is married to Carmelo Cannistraro, who was arrested in 2006 as part of an RCMP-led crackdown on the Mafia.
RCMP documents submitted to Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry list Cannistraro as an associate of Frank Arcadi, one of the Mafia bosses in the Rizzuto clan.
The spate of firebombings has been accompanied by a series of grisly killings around the Montreal area, largely targeting those linked to Vito Rizzuto, the one-time godfather who turned the city's Mafia into one of the most successful organized crime operations in North America.
Rizzuto, known as the Teflon Don, pleaded guilty in an American court to racketeering charges in 2007 in exchange for a 10-year sentence in connection with the 1981 murders of three alleged gang leaders at a New York social club.
He died of natural causes in 2013, 15 months after his release from a Colorado prison. Other members of his clan haven't been so fortunate.
Last October, Vincenzo Spagnolo was shot to death at his home, also in Laval's Vimont neighbourhood. Organized crime experts say Spagnolo, 65, served as the right-hand man to Rizzuto.
At the time, provincial police said Spagnolo's death appeared to be the result of a "settling of accounts" within the Mafia.
Last May Rocco Sollecito was gunned down while driving his BMW SUV through Laval.
He was suspected of acting as an adviser to Vito Rizzuto's son Leonardo, who allegedly took over from his father. The younger Rizzuto is currently behind bars, awaiting trial on gangsterism and drug-trafficking charges.
Leonardo's brother, Nick Jr., and grandfather, Nicolo, were shot dead in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Nature abhors a vacuum
In the early days of the bloodletting, it was unclear to observers who was behind the violence: street gangs, the Hells Angels and Mafia clans from outside the city were all tossed around as possibilities.
But Pierre de Champlain, a former organized-crime analyst for the RCMP, increasingly believes the violence is coming from within the Montreal Mafia's own ranks.
The Rizzutos, originally from Sicily, took charge of the Mafia after wrestling power away from the Cotronis, from Calabria, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Nicolo Rizzuto managed to successfully transfer the crown to his son, Vito. Under their leadership, de Champlain said, Montreal became an important hub in the international drug trade, a way-station for cocaine on its way to the U.S.
But Vito's death created a vacuum. And the ongoing violence is a sign no one has been able to establish himself as a strong leader in his place, someone capable of earning the respect of the various factions within the Mob.
"We may suspect at the moment that the so-called Calabrian faction has an advantage because the Sicilian factions have been severely hit with casualties over the last years," de Champlain said.
"So you might think that the Calabrian factions might be behind these fires, but that doesn't mean the Sicilians are not responding to this."
Where the Mafia falters, the Hells surge
As the war wages within the Mafia, if indeed that is what's happening, other organized crime groups have been able to reassert themselves.
This has notably been the case with the Hells Angels, which — after being weakened by police arrests and internal conflicts of their own — have emerged once again as a force within Quebec's underworld.
"There is no war against them, and they are not at war with anyone," de Champlain said.
"The longer their war goes on, the more the Mafia is weakened."
With files from Emily Brass and Kamila Hinkson