Montreal

Quebec to appeal release of 31 accused bikers

Quebec's director of penal and criminal prosecutions says there will be an appeal of the decision to stay proceedings against 31 members and associates of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang arrested on drug charges.

Judge's decision to throw out charges "disappointing": Justice Minister

Quebec's director of penal and criminal prosecutions says there will be an appeal of the decision to stay proceedings against 31 members and associates of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang arrested on drug charges.

A Quebec Superior Court justice ordered their release Tuesday, arguing the court system is already strained and is simply unable to provide the labour needed to try them.

Louis Dionne, the province's chief prosecutor, said he believes the judge made a mistake.

He also rejected the notion that mega trials are problematic because they can become unwieldy.

The province's justice minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, echoed that stance, telling reporters he's disappointed. Fournier said he also disagrees with the decision to free the suspects, rounded up as part of a massive police crackdown in 2009.

"I understand the total surprise for Quebecers," Fournier said in a brief statement. "I would like to share my disagreement with you."

The operation dubbed Sharqc reeled in 155 alleged bikers, who faced charges including murder, gangsterism, drug trafficking and conspiracy.

Justice James Brunton criticized Fournier and the director of criminal prosecutions Tuesday for assuming the justice system could handle such a large and complex case.

The bombshell announcement prompted accusations that the Quebec justice system, already hobbled by funding and workload issues, has tumbled into disarray.

Brunton said the delays would have prevented the accused from having fair trials.

Defence lawyers insist it could take 10 years before the last of the accused goes to trial.

The controversy also led to a heated exchange Wednesday in Quebec's national assembly, where Premier Jean Charest rushed to the defence of his justice minister.

Opposition Leader Pauline Marois blasted the government for bungling the "biggest trial in Quebec history."

"Who should be blamed for this fiasco?" the Parti Quebecois leader asked during Question Period.

Charest answered that he has "total confidence" in his justice minister.

"We are determined to do everything necessary to ensure that those who are accused will face justice and that's exactly what we're going to do," said Charest.

During the heated exchange in the national assembly, Speaker Jacques Chagnon had to repeatedly remind MNAs to limit their comments, since the case is under appeal.

Organized crime specialist and former La Presse reporter, André Cedilot, said the release of those arrested on drug charges is worrisome, although only five out of the 31 are actual Hells Angels members.

"The [rest] are associates, but they are normally more active on the street," Cedilot said. "Those guys are wannabes and they do the dirty work for the Hells Angels."

With files from The Canadian Press