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All out war against Biker Clubs. Police have vowed to crack down on bikers From Black Pistons, Outlaws, Hells Angels and Red Devils
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All out war against Biker Clubs. Police have vowed to crack down on bikers From Black Pistons, Outlaws, Hells Angels and Red Devils

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Taylor Blewett

The Outlaws haven’t tried to camouflage their clubhouse at 18 Ladouceur St. Spotlights and blacked-out windows make it clear this isn’t your average Hintonburg home, to say nothing of the Outlaws’ signage and acronym marking the property as biker turf. Even its black and white paint job pays homage to the motorcycle gang’s colours, which flood the street on warm weekend evenings when its members roll up, ready to party.

It was the most run-of-the-mill neighbourhood concern that prompted residents to reach out to this newspaper about the Ladouceur Street clubhouse. Their neighbour makes noise – a lot of it – at all hours when they’re in town. Bikes idle, rev and roar down the street, startling sleeping households. It’s a cycle that continues until the festivities finally wind down.

 

These residents say calls to bylaw, police and the area’s city councillor have done nothing to curb this ongoing headache.

Ottawa bylaw said it’s received “a few complaints” about noise on Ladouceur “that have been investigated,” and directed inquiries about a specific property to the city’s freedom of information and privacy office. Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story, referring questions about the Outlaws to police. Ottawa police said noise concerns should go to bylaw, who can call for police assistance if they need it.

The Ladouceur residents who approached this newspaper did so after years of biker noise and a circular search to hold the perpetrators accountable. An access to information request revealed six bylaw complaints about muffler, music and other unspecified noise at 18 Ladouceur St. since 2015, including two in 2019.

The residents also raised a nagging fear that one night, something far worse than loud noise would happen at the clubhouse and endanger themselves or others. But they feel this concern has fallen on deaf ears.

“Why are there different rules for them? Why are they so held up?” one resident asked, who requested not to be named in this story, citing fear of retribution for speaking out. “Why is this allowed in a residential area? Why (are they) allowed to have a clubhouse for a motorcycle gang here?”

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Indeed, the existence of Ottawa’s biker bunkers presents a paradox.

For years, Ladouceur Street in Hintonburg and Piperville Road in Carlsbad Springs have played host to chapters of the country’s most notorious motorcycle gangs – the Outlaws’ Ottawa chapter, and the Nomads chapter of the Hells Angels, respectively.

Members of these gangs have described themselves as “one percenters” (the American Motorcyclist Association once said that 99 per cent of riders respect the law). Yet the same self-professed criminals are accepted, even welcomed by some law-abiding residents into the fabric of their neighbourhoods.

Add to this puzzle the fact that law enforcement officials continue to insist on the danger posed by these gangs and their real estate. An RCMP webpage states that “living near an outlaw motorcycle club can affect your safety and decrease your property value,” while the Ontario Provincial Police website cautions that “the sight of outlaw motorcycle gang members in any community should be a concern.” But at the same time, officers aren’t often seen breaking down doors, closing clubhouses and ordering gang members out of town, at least in Ottawa.

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So what gives? Are motorcycle gangs still the threat to public safety that police purport? If so, why do their clubhouses appear to have permission – both social and legal – to exist in the middle of residential communities?

“Don’t believe anything the cops are telling you. Lots of it is BS,” a representative of the Outlaws’ Ottawa chapter wrote, before declining a request for interview from this newspaper. Its national contact also declined the same opportunity, and the Hells Angels did not respond to repeated requests for interview.

Both gangs have websites, and their messaging reveals a lot about the way they’d like to be viewed. They declare they are a brotherhood of motorcycle enthusiasts. Criminal activity goes unmentioned or, in the case of the Outlaws, is explicitly denied.

“Although the media like to portray us as being criminals, the truth is we share a common goal of enjoying life to the fullest,” the Outlaws’ website reads.

OPP deputy commissioner Rick Barnum doesn’t buy it for a second. “In my experience in this type of work, I’ve never found an outlaw motorcycle gang chapter in any part of our country that’s not involved in some sort of serious criminality.”

He also noted that for the last 15 or so years, “every one of our intelligence assessments that exists in Canada has the Hells Angels as the No. 1 organized crime group in the country.”

Although the Red and White might reign supreme, they’re far from the only force in the biker world. The RCMP defines an outlaw motorcycle gang or one-percenter club as any group of motorcycle riders and supporters who have made a voluntary commitment to band together, abide by organizational rules, and commit crime. The Hells Angels and the Outlaws are preeminent examples.

Chief Supt. Rob Gilchrist, director general of Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC), listed the criminal activities in which outlaw biker gangs are known to dabble.

From economic crimes, such as money laundering and counterfeiting, to crimes that threaten community safety – drug trafficking, firearms dealing and murder – “outlaw motorcycle gangs are a serious criminal threat in Canada,” Gilchrist said.

They’re also remarkably flexible.

“In essence, outlaw motorcycle gangs seek to make a profit whenever and however they can. So new trends will always come to surface, as long as there’s money to be made from the activity,” Gilchrist said.

CISC produced a 2018-19 report on the Canadian illicit drug market that found organized crime group involvement in fentanyl had increased by 1,500 per cent since 2015, and “entrenched (organized crime groups) such as outlaw motorcycle gangs are becoming more involved.”

An Upstate woman said the visiting Hells Angels motorcycle club members are helping keep her late son’s memory alive.

On Aug. 7, following a 14-month investigation, police announced drug trafficking and other criminal charges against 15 outlaw bikers and associates in Ottawa, Niagara and Sudbury. According to police, one of the four Ottawa men charged was a full-patch member of the Hells Angels Nomads, while the other three were full-patch Red Devils. 

Last December, police in Brockville arrested four men in connection with Outlaws gang activity. They faced a slew of charges, including kidnapping, robbery and assault with a weapon.

In 2018 alone, the OPP’s Barnum said the biker enforcement unit (BEU) made 15 arrests of outlaw motorcycle gang members across Eastern Ontario, laying 127 charges.

“We’re constantly monitoring, we’re constantly sort of waiting for the right opportunity because as you can imagine, we’re talking about professional criminals so they don’t drop too many breadcrumbs for us,” he said.

At the centre of it all is the biker clubhouse, serving both symbolic and functional purposes. Not only does having a clubhouse mean formal recognition as a one-percenter chapter, but the property also facilitates its membership’s illicit dealings.

During a sweeping series of Outlaws arrests in 2002, police raided the Ladouceur Street clubhouse as well as two other properties in Ottawa and Toronto. They recovered a sawed-off rifle, sawed-off shotgun, ammunition, brass knuckles and gang paraphernalia.

After nearly two decades of doing this work, “I can’t think of a search warrant at any clubhouse anywhere in Ontario … where we have not succeeded in recovering some sort of criminal activity,” Barnum said.

But where they haven’t been successful is the permanent disruption of outlaw biker crime. After the 2002 Outlaws raids, with about 65 per cent of the Ontario membership facing charges, there was speculation that the gang would be wiped out for good. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.

Across Ontario, outlaw biker gang membership has actually undergone “significant growth” in the last five to eight years, according to OPP detective Staff Sgt. Anthony Renton, operations manager at the BEU.

It’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing. Despite years of work by law enforcement, outlaw motorcycle gangs have proven a particularly persistent foe. Clubs have pursued a number of strategies to secure their survival, including what Renton described as a remarkable push by biker gang members to build up their support clubs.

These groups, also known as puppet clubs, act as farm teams from which new members can be recruited. In Ottawa, the roster includes the Red Devils, a Hells Angels support club, and the Black Pistons, who support the Outlaws.

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Support clubs can also be used to carry out the gang’s dirty work, serving as a layer of insulation between full-patch gang members and the criminality they’re engaged in. “It makes it harder for the police to capture the leaders,” said Renton. “It’s (in) some cases easier to capture the people that are committing the offences, but not necessarily truly benefitting.”

Globalization has also helped one-percenter clubs survive and thrive in the 21st century. According to Gilchrist, director general of CISC, outlaw biker gangs have expanded their international networks as well as their online activity. Here at home, chapters and criminal networks crisscross the nation, with strategic allegiances that extend far beyond the world of one percenters.

“It’s believed that these networks connect to over half of all organized crime groups in Canada,” said Gilchrist.

Police have also observed a restraint that separates today’s biker culture from that of the 1990s and 2000s, when brazen violence and civilian casualties occurred with greater frequency, and with them, mass biker arrests and chapter takedowns. Clearly, said Renton, lessons have been learned.

“These criminal networks have evolved, and they are existing to make profit. They do not want to, in most cases … bring negative attention upon themselves.”

There are exceptions, however. Motorcycle gang rivalries run deep.

The Outlaws and Hells Angels are sworn enemies, and when members of both showed up at a biker rally in Port Dover, Ont. last year, it led to a standoff. There were close to 200,000 people at the event. “And if it wasn’t for the actions of the officers that were deployed on the ground that day, that would have been a significant, violent act,” said Renton. “I couldn’t put a number on the potential for casualties.”

Ottawa happens to host chapters of both rival gangs. The Outlaws have had a local presence since the ’70s, much of that time spent in the Ladouceur Street clubhouse. The Hells Angels’ Nomads chapter folded back in 2016, but the gang returned to Piperville Road more than a year ago.

Their presence hasn’t always been peaceful. On April 12, 1994, a car bomb exploded outside 18 Ladouceur St. and knocked the Outlaw biker who opened the vehicle’s door off his feet.

The bomb’s detonator went off, but the explosive itself failed to ignite – if it had, it could have taken several surrounding houses with it, a source close to the investigation said at the time. Officials suggested the bomb was the work of the Hells Angels, potentially trying to muscle in on Outlaws turf.

“As a neighbour, you may not get a problem with the bikers that are living next door to you in their clubhouse,” said Barnum, OPP deputy commissioner. “But you may have a problem with the group that they’re not friendly with coming into your community and into your neighbourhood.”

Given the potential danger posed by outlaw bikers and their clubhouses, it seems head-scratching that more residents aren’t up in arms about their neighbourhood presence. But a closer look reveals that barring a few exceptions, these bikers and their neighbours have successfully established a live-and-let-live dynamic that allows for their co-existence in relative peace.

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Before Annie Muldoon and her partner bought the house beside the Outlaws’ Ladouceur clubhouse in 2011, she asked passing neighbours about what, exactly, they were getting themselves into. “People were overwhelming positive,” she said.

The day the Muldoons moved in, they heard a knock at the door. “A huge man with tattoos all over him was at our back door, saying, ‘Do you folks want some corn? We just had a corn roast.’

“They work really hard to be good neighbours. And we’ve never had any conflict, we’ve never witnessed anything concerning. The only thing is the noise of the bikes.”

Other Hintonburg homeowners echoed this sentiment. Emily Addison lives across the street from the clubhouse, and said she considers the bikers more of a neighbourhood asset than a liability. She feels like Ladouceur is safer than most streets – what petty criminal would feel bold on biker turf? –  and that the Outlaws add to its socioeconomic diversity.

“There’s a lot of gentrification with three-quarter-of-a-million dollar homes being put in, and I feel having the biker gang on our street keeps things just a little bit more real,” Addison said.

When provided some examples of biker crime, and asked if they coloured her view of her Ladouceur Street neighbours, Addison said she objectively takes issue with these activities, “but … for whatever reason, I don’t have an association between this club on our street and the larger activity of gang culture across the continent.”

“I don’t know if these folks are doing those things – I don’t really care to know. They’re respectful neighbours.”

he’s far from the only one to hold this view – in fact, it’s exactly the outcome outlaw motorcycle gangs have proven extremely adept at cultivating.

Julian Sher, an investigative journalist and author of two books on the Hells Angels, has seen firsthand the unique charisma with which many an outlaw biker has charmed civilians.

“Some of them can be creeps and bullies, but many of them are amicable and they’re smart, and a lot of them are clean shaven, and (have) short cropped hair, and they have fancy bikes.”

Adding to this lovable bad boy image is the fact that many outlaw bikers will cop to being rebels, but not dangerous criminals, and can get away with it because much of their crime is committed out of sight. Mix in remarkable PR savvy – as Sher points out, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to think of another organized criminal group that has websites and spokespeople – and the fact these bikers can fraternize alongside civilians without much conflict, and their steadfast existence makes a lot more sense.

“Their flair and reliance on public relations, and the allure of the outlaw biker image … gives them a popularity, a resilience, even sometimes a kind of grudging admiration from too many people in society,” said Sher.

There are certain individuals – like the Ladouceur residents who approached this newspaper – who buck this trend, and would like to see their neighbourhood bikers ousted. But in this case, the rejection comes not so much from moral or safety objections, but rather a desire to enjoy a quieter and more prosperous neighbourhood.

While Hintonburg is gentrifying, and Ladouceur Street with it, the section of the street where the Outlaws roost is still mostly comprised of small clapboard homes (though one of these was listed for sale at close to half-a-million dollars). Elsewhere on the street, you’ll find modern glass townhouses and construction sites.

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“There’s more kids on the street now, there’s more new homes. They just don’t fit in, to be honest with you,” said one of the residents, of the neighbourhood Outlaws. Noise issues aside, “if you look at the bigger picture, in the interests of the community – we pushed out the hookers, we pushed out the drug dealers, and now, all that’s left … is the biker gang.”

Whether a changing neighbourhood composition will actually force the clubhouse out remains to be seen – though it will mean an influx of newcomers with more money and no experience living beside bikers, potentially objecting to their presence in a way most long-time residents haven’t to date.

But in the meantime, it appears the one percenters in Hintonburg and other clubhouses across the country will continue to collect on the social capital that protects their place in the fabric of communities.

There is one group, however, that claims immunity to biker PR.

Police are privy to information about outlaw motorcycle gangs that allows them to see, far more than the public, who members are and what they do behind closed doors. And because they insist these activities include serious, dangerous organized criminality, this begs another question.

Why, exactly, aren’t police stopping the Outlaws and other gangs like it from maintaining clubhouses in communities, even if neighbours don’t – for the most part – feel a need to rock the boat?

The answer is as simple as it is challenging for those working to dismantle biker networks.

“Anyone can buy a residence,” Renton said. “And if you’re not using it outside of the zoning laws in that community, you can do so much.”

It’s an entitlement that allows for the black and white house on Ladouceur, the Hells Angels hangout in Carlsbad Springs, and the other biker clubhouses in communities across the country.

As Sher explains it, Canada hasn’t outlawed one-percenter biker gangs – civil liberties, such as freedom of association, would make that an extremely difficult outcome to achieve. The Netherlands made headlines in May for becoming the first country to ban the Hells Angels, and according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, it’s a ruling the gang indicated it intends to appeal.

Here in Canada, there has been discussion at the federal level around a list of proven criminal organizations – similar to the national list of terrorist entities – which could include outlaw biker gangs. In fact, it’s one promise from the federal Conservatives’ election platform.

In a 2018 Canadian Press story, legal experts took issue with the proposal. Prosecutors have the burden of proving gang activity, and rightly so, they said. The question of whether a group of individuals is an organized crime network “is not one that can simply be assumed” by government, said Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University.

For the time being, it’s a serious undertaking to dismantle a biker clubhouse in Canada – and the reason many continue to exist today. Although Canadian authorities can, and have, been able to seize clubhouses through criminal code and civil forfeiture legislation, it can require significant effort, time and taxpayer money.

In B.C., the Hells Angels and province are still fighting a court battle over the forfeiture of clubhouses in Nanaimo, Vancouver and Kelowna. It’s been 12 years since the director of civil forfeiture went after the first one, and he’s acknowledged that costs have been high. In fact, he said he’d have to “crunch the numbers” to determine whether the legal bills have exceeded the value of the properties facing forfeiture.

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In 2014, Manitoba became the first North American jurisdiction to add the Hells Angels to a list of criminal organizations. The move was designed to eliminate a requirement that authorities repeatedly prove the gang is a criminal organization in legal proceeding after legal proceeding, resulting in “more swift and effective enforcement of provincial laws,” including the act used to pursue biker clubhouse forfeiture. Ontario has not followed suit.

In an email, the provincial Ministry of the Attorney General broke down the steps required for clubhouse forfeiture under the Civil Remedies Act. The attorney general receives forfeiture cases, and assesses them in accordance with “public interest” and other factors. The AG has to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the property is a proceed or instrument of illegal activity, or used in a conspiracy that’s injurious to the public. If this is accomplished, a superior court judge can then grant a forfeiture order, and the property can be sold or demolished.

Despite the investment required, the OPP’s Barnum said biker clubhouse seizures can be a worthwhile law enforcement goal. Shutting down these properties “helps us to keep them mobile and moving around and keep them so they can’t get in a pattern,” he said. Any value obtained from the property after being forfeited can go back into government coffers. According to the attorney general, these funds can go towards victim compensation, cost recovery or provincial grants.

Asked specifically why this has yet to happen in Ottawa, Barnum said, “Don’t give up on us. You can read between the lines.”

Nearly two years after he was arrested and charged as part of a massive racketeering case Sonoma chapter of the Hells Angels, Raymond “Ray Ray” Foakes is seeking a pretrial release to the East Bay.

He added, “if we’re going to proceed that way, we want to make sure we’re going to win … we have (to have) the right investigation and the right case to move forward with.”

That could take a while. The organized nature of these groups makes investigating and prosecuting them anything but simple. And Barnum is the first to admit that outlaw motorcycle gangs “haven’t always been a priority” for Canadian law enforcement.

For years, he said, biker investigations were happening, but coordination was lacking between different policing bodies in different places. That’s changed in the last few years, according to Barnum, and today, members of the Canadian Integrated Response to Organized Crime (CIROC) – a national body that brings together high-ranking police service members – meet on a quarterly basis to share intelligence and coordinate investigations.

The latter requires the gamut of law enforcement techniques – from wiretaps and surveillance to informants and undercover operations. And, Barnum added, “these extremely expensive, complex … protracted criminal investigations may be not as efficient and as effective as other things we can do.”

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A look at RCMP and provincial police Twitter feeds reveals “alternative approaches” to biker policing, as Barnum calls them. Earlier this spring, participating CIROC agencies launched a social media campaign, circulating graphics designed to teach the public about the “true colours” of outlaw motorcycle gangs, advising against supporting these groups, and encouraging people to report suspicious activity.

“We can’t do this alone. We need the support of the communities,” said Renton, who heads the OPP’s biker enforcement unit.

Asked specifically about the residents on Ladouceur Street, who feel their concerns about local bikers have gone unacknowledged by the same authorities asking for their help, Renton said, “I’d never turn anyone away.”

“I would truly urge those people to call the Ottawa Police Service or the OPP and ask to speak with biker enforcement unit members. And I can guarantee you that biker enforcement members will reach out and have conversations with people.”

Another popular tool for outlaw biker deterrence has been the humble municipal bylaw. Police forces can work with policymakers to pass bylaws prohibiting fortified biker bunkers. While Ottawa doesn’t have one, they exist across the country — from Hamilton, Ont. to Prince Albert, Sask. — and ban certain clubhouse features that biker gangs use to insulate themselves from rivals and law enforcement, such as armoured doors and windows, perimeter booby traps and outward surveillance devices.

In essence, said Sher, who has watched many a community do battle with biker gangs, it takes collaboration at every civic level to chop away at their criminal networks and insulation in communities.

“The police, the politicians and the people have to say, ‘No impunity,’” he said. “The police know they’re never going to arrest every single (outlaw biker) but you just keep arresting them to send the message – you’re not going to get away with it.

“Politicians have to support with laws that protect communities, and say, ‘You’re not welcome.’ And the people have to wake up to the myths that too many people are living by, and say, ‘Wait a minute, these are criminals, and they’re not welcome in our community.’

“You treat them the way you would treat any other unruly neighbour – you follow the law, but you organize, you educate.”

In Saint-Nicolas, a suburb near Quebec City, residents did just that in the wake of a Hells Angels clubhouse bombing. In the spring of 1997, hundreds marched in protest, demanding the bikers get out of town. Local, provincial and national police spent months piecing together a case, using then-new anti-gang legislation, and eventually they seized the biker clubhouse.

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But it took a 20-kg bomb explosion and damage to dozens of homes to mobilize this response. Ottawa’s resident bikers have so far avoided – intentionally or otherwise – crossing the threshold where violence leads their neighbours to turn against them.

But in the absence of an explosive event, what responsibility, if any, does a community have to confront a biker gang in their midst?

It’s a question Coun. Jeff Leiper declined to answer about Ladouceur Street. Annie Muldoon, the Outlaws’ next-door neighbour, said she wouldn’t partake in any kind of effort to make them feel unwelcome.

“I’m not here to judge the way anyone lives,” she said.

Coun. Stephen Blais, in whose ward the Hells Angels Piperville clubhouse is located, said that criminals live on streets in neighbourhoods across Ottawa.

“Unfortunately it’s very difficult for an average citizen to one, know if who’s around them is or isn’t a criminal, and then two, how to engage on that.”

The Carlsbad Springs Community Association summed up the neighbourhood’s feelings about the local Hells Angels in a statement. “They don’t bother anyone, they don’t interact with the community, and that’s about the extent of it.” Others neighbours expressed the same sentiment when approached by this newspaper.

“If there are members of the community that are breaking the law, or if there are organized criminal elements that are breaking the law, then it’s up to the police to investigate and enforce the law, and they do that,” Blais said.

On the subject of bylaws, the councillor pointed out that the city has noise rules that regulate such things as motor vehicle idling, revving and muffler modifications. He hadn’t before heard of fortification bylaws, but said he’d asked the legal department to look into the subject.

“But at the same time, if you have a bylaw, you have to be willing and able to enforce it,” Blais said. “And when you’re talking about enforcing something against a biker gang who you know or believe to be at a high level of criminal activity, (it) really comes down to the police to do that.”

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This, and the other responses from officials interviewed, were cold comfort for the residents of Ladouceur who came to this newspaper, with their right to quiet enjoyment and their ambitions for the neighbourhood disrupted by the bikers in their midst.

“It’s everybody passing the buck,” one said. “I have never seen any action. There seems to just be a hands-off approach.”

They could, of course, try to broach the subject directly with the noisy neighbours causing their frustration. Or, as Sher suggested, band together with neighbours to put up the kind of protest that’s hard for authorities to ignore. But these residents said putting the onus on them, and them alone, is unfair and – in the case of approaching the Outlaws directly – possibly unsafe.

As for the OPP officials’ request that they don’t give up on their biker investigators, and reach out to police to talk about their concerns in the meantime: “I just want to see some activity that backs up some of the words.”

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“I’m tired of people saying, ‘We hear you.’ Now I want to see that they’ve heard and they’re going to try to change it.”

— With files from the Canadian Press, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette

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