When Hell Froze Over
How the Hells Angels Conquered Canada
Canadians don't appear to be scared of anything. They don't carry guns, they don't lock their front doors—heck, they probably even allow their kids play outside after dark. But our northern neighbors aren't exactly frolicking around in a crime-free world the way the media might have you believe. In fact, during the past 30 years, Canada has been terrorized by an influx of biker gangs that act less like hog-riding hooligans and more like Corleone-worthy mafia men.
In all fairness, this new wave of Canadian crime is fueled by an unmistakably American export. Motorcycle gangs in the United States—at least these days—are often romanticized in the Kerouac tradition of life on the open road or confused as clubs of harmless motorcycle enthusiasts. Groups such as the Hells Angels don't make headlines much these days. As such, they seem like shadows of an age long past. And even though American motorcycle gangs are still alive and well today (and most of them are still up to no good), they're hardly the national threat they are in Canada. There, they've taken center stage, living up to their intimidating image with intermittent rashes of shootings, knifings, and even bombings.
The War of Northern Aggression
In the late 1970s, the Hells Angels were thriving in the States under the leadership of Sonny Barger, a founding member of the Angels' original chapter in Fontana, Calif., and arguably the most famous Hells Angel in history. The group was reported to be deeply involved in drug smuggling, prostitution, and extortion, and Barger saw opportunity for the Angels in Montreal, where the local gangs were less organized and local authorities less prepared to resist the group's presence. So, in 1977, Barger established the first Canadian chapter of the Hells Angels in Montreal. Almost immediately, they began muscling their way to supremacy, reorganizing the country's homegrown biker gangs into well-disciplined bands of killers.
But dominating the biker scene wasn't always easy. In many regions—specifically QuÃ©bec—the Hells Angels had to fight turf wars with rival gangs such as the Outlaws and Bandidos. That's when things started getting bloody, and that's when Yves "Apache" Trudeau came into the picture. One of the original Canadian Hells Angels, Trudeau was a notorious drug addict and psychopath. In his quest for Angel dominance, Trudeau was rumored to single-handedly have killed 43 people and to have played a part in the murder of 40 others. By 1985, more than 100 people had died as a result of biker-gang violence.
After that, Trudeau became the face of les Hells, as the Angels were known in French Canada. But during the latter half of the 1980s, the group began turning on itself. Still under Trudeau's leadership, various chapters of Angels started vying for power in certain areas and fighting to control the spoils of crime. In one instance, five Angels were murdered by members of a rival chapter, their bodies dumped in the St. Lawrence River. The killers had hoped to murder Trudeau as well, but he escaped. Seeking sanctuary, Trudeau did the unthinkable and turned to the police, instigating one of the biggest biker busts in Canadian history. In exchange for a reduced sentence, Trudeau sent 50 of his fellow Angels down the river.
In the aftermath of Trudeau's arrest, only two of QuÃ©bec's five chapters remained. Police thought the Hells Angels were finished, but they were wrong. It was only a matter of time before a new leader emerged on the biker scene. This time, it was Maurice Boucher, better known as "Mom" (because he liked to make breakfast for his fellow Angels).
Boucher expanded the Hells Angels presence in Canada even further. Looking to smuggle huge drug shipments into North America, local chapters of the Angels infiltrated major ports in Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax. By 2000, Boucher's drug network in Montreal was purportedly trafficking more than $100 million a year in cocaine, hashish, and marijuana (that's according to the gang's own computer records, by the way). But with expansion came more territorial warfare "¦ and more violence. Between 1994 and 2001, another 165 people died as a result of motorcycle-gang violence.
Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, the growth of biker crime in Canada caught police officials completely off guard. Traditionally, authorities had been willing to let criminals do their own thing as long as they didn't hurt the general population. But with "Mom" Boucher at the helm, it became clear that biker-gang violence wasn't going to be limited to back-alley brawls and bar fights.
The reality of the situation quickly came to light in 1995 after a car bomb (linked to a motorcycle gang) tragically killed an 11-year-old boy in QuÃ©bec. Then, in 1997, Boucher was charged with murdering two prison guards, and one of his henchmen shot a journalist six times in the back. Finally, after police found a hit list that included the names of judges, prosecutors, and politicians, it became clear the Hells Angels were at war with the state.
Panicked, the government launched a massive crackdown. Canadian authorities enacted anti-gang laws, doubled police-force budgets, and paid informants were assigned to infiltrate the Hells Angels. Then, on March 28, 2001, the authorities scored a victory. In a massive raid, hundreds of officers arrested 128 members of the Hells Angels, including "Mom" Boucher. The bikers were charged with murder, conspiracy, assault, and drug trafficking, and the Hells Angels were officially declared an organized crime ring. Two and a half years later, all the outlaw bikers were convicted and given sentences ranging from eight to 25 years. Boucher, at the age of 52, received two life sentences.
The effort was a major coup for Canadian police, but it was hardly the final chapter for the Hells Angels. The group was so firmly entrenched in the nation's underbelly that no amount of jail time seemed to affect their ability to recruit new members. The good news is that, these days, biker-gang violence is mostly contained to the underground crime world and doesn't pose an immediate threat to average citizens or tourists. The bad news? The Angels are now more powerful in Canada than in any other country. So, despite all its peace-loving, maple-leaf goodness, the country remains the unlikely new stomping grounds for motorcycle gangs "¦ and their crime.
This story was written by William Marsden and originally ran mental_floss magazine volume 4, issue 6.