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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Motorcycle gangs extending reach in Alberta


Seven years ago, Shannon Trottier was left with a gaping hole in her life when she watched her 34-year-old son die in her arms. Joey Campbell, also known as Joey Morin, was rushed to hospital after he was sprayed with bullets outside a west-end strip club, but his injuries were too severe to overcome. A second man, Robert Simpson, died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds. Both men were affiliated with outlaw motorcycle gangs — at that time the Bandidos — and the killer has yet to be brought to justice. The shooting marks the last time any significant violence among bikers erupted onto city streets and police are holding their breath it will stay that way given the province’s changing biker club scene. According to Sgt. Marc Labonte of the Edmonton Integrated Intelligence Unit for the RCMP, during the last two years Alberta has seen one of the largest increases in outlaw motorcycle gangs across the country. Labonte wouldn’t name the specific clubs that have set up shop in the province, but said there are now four main clubs referred to as “one-percenters” — a term given to outlaw motorcycle clubs that aren’t always just out for a good time — as opposed to one main group with four chapters. Two new one-percenters showed up in the last year, and each one has one to three chapters. In addition, police have identified at least eight “puppet” clubs or associate clubs, which consists of members aspiring to become part of the main clubs, so they conduct certain business to prove themselves worthy. In early 2009, Labonte said there were maybe two or three associate clubs in the province. The bikers are also spreading their wings. Two or three years ago, Labonte said the one-percenters were limited to Edmonton and Calgary, but they have since spread to cities throughout the province, and it’s largely attributed to the booming economy. “The economy was good, so there was money. Where there’s money, there is always a criminality,” said Labonte. Police are closely keeping tabs on the most recent outlaw motorcycle clubs to arrive in the province. But Labonte isn’t expecting an all-out turf war to erupt any time soon — like the one going on between the Hells Angels and Rock Machine in Winnipeg, which experienced a series of firebombings and shootings, including one that put a 14-year-old boy in hospital with gunshot wounds. In the past, some of the biker gangs in Alberta have been responsible for homicides, home invasions, drugs, prostitution, money laundering and extortion. Labonte said there has been an increase in criminality among the clubs in recent years — the most notable were home invasions where “somebody didn’t pay up.” But often crimes such as this go undetected, making it difficult for law enforcement to get involved. “The victim, who’s a criminal usually, will not report it to police because they know what these guys can do,” said Labonte, who noted biker gangs try to keep violence from spilling onto the street. “They don’t want to make a big scene. They will be very low profile because they don’t want the public against them. They are like a business. They don’t want to be known as bad guys.” Although police aren’t concerned there will be an all-out turf war in Alberta, Mounties are cognizant things could change since many of the clubs are connected regionally and nationally. In 2004, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada listed the Hell's Angels as the largest and most powerful outlaw motorcycle gang in Canada, with approximately 500 members belonging to 34 chapters across the country, in which at least three were in Alberta. The following year, the director of the Criminal Intelligence Service of Alberta told the Sun the Hells Angels wouldn’t allow any competitors to set up shop in Alberta. But police believe the momentum has changed since then. Labonte noted there are about five or six one-percenters in the U.S. Alberta now has four of them — and they seem to be talking and negotiating with each other. Police have heard of instances where one group has stolen another group’s patch, which sends a message you are not allowed to be here. So far the bikers seem to be using the gesture as a way to start talking to one another and lay grounds for respect, said Labonte. Whether those talks are peaceful remains to be seen. “It’s always troublesome. It happened in Edmonton and a small rural community, so now we have to be careful because that could escalate,” said Labonte. “Some of them are into criminality. It doesn’t mean they are all into criminality.”

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