CECO was La Commission d’enquête sur le crime organisé / the Commission of Inquiry into Organized Crime. It was set up under Liberal party Premiere Robert Bourassa in 1972. The goal of CECO was the dismantling of drug, gambling and prostitution networks in Quebec, targeting in particular the Italian mafia. The commission’s original mandate lasted only three years, but that mandate was extended 12 times (10 of those extensions at the request of the Parti Québécois’ Justice Minister, Marc Andre Bedard) and CECO lived on well into the 1980s.
CECO was intended to only go after the higher echelons of mob power, avoiding street level operations, but the government quickly broke their own rules and began prodding and probing into everybody’s business (if we haven’t already said it, Quebexico is a very small place). In the beginning the panel hearings looked into the gaming world and wiretapping initiatives like Operation Vegas. By the ’80s they had their noses into corruption in the fur industry, the liquor commission, and tainted meat scandals. The head of Quebec’s Bar Association quipped, “Any gang of bums is considered to be organized crime.”
Some very good work got done. The commissioners (one of whom was Denys Dionne, the ad hoc coroner who found officers criminally responsible in the Rock Forest Massacre case) held mobsters like Paolo Violi and Vincent Cotroni to account daily and live on Quebec radio and television (“Mr. 10-4”, CKVL’s Claude Poirier was a constant presence). The commission investigated the “Dubois clan”, nine brothers with a criminal operation of two-hundred people in Montreal’s Saint-Henri district. It’s worth noting that CECO operated under the umbrella of the Surete du Quebec with its offices located on the top floors of the SQ’s headquarters on Rue Parthenais in downtown Montreal.
For today, I want to focus on a CECO report published in 1980 titled, Biker Gangs in Quebec. For our purposes, this report tells us what the government knew about motorcycle gangs in the 1970s, or what they thought they knew. What we know now is that within the decade of the 1970s police underestimated the threat of biker gangs. The Quebec government incubated their growth providing government assistance through projects like the MUQ experiment. By the end of the decade biker gangs had become such a serious threat that Marc Andre Bedard saw the need to study them.
Biker Gangs of Quebec is broken down in to two sections. Part One focuses on biker gangs in several targeted regions where the commission held focus sessions and hearings: the port of Saint Pierre, Sept Iles, Mount Joli, Saint Gideon, Sherbrooke, and Asbestos and Danville. Part Two is more of a sociological study where the commission conducted interviews with various players in the biker world. The report ends with some recommendations (we’ll get to those in a moment).
The report begins with the simple question, Who Are These Bikers? These bands of fun-loving misunderstood youths who had grown from street peddling of drugs and prostitutes to now acquiring substantial assets like thousand dollar vehicles and tracts of real estate? CECO then answers this question:
“To be honest, some motorcycle clubs, especially those discussed in this report, are bands of lazy, lawless parasites, drug addicts, the diminished and the contaminated. They have no legitimate aim or ambition. They expect nothing from life in society and have nothing to offer to others. They are violent and dangerous for those around them and for themselves, which makes them an organized crime environment even more dangerous than the mafia or other organized criminal groups which have been identified in the past, and whose ongoing criminal activities consist of murder, trafficking in drugs and offensive weapons, theft and concealment of automobiles and motorcycles, assault, rape and intimidation.”Les bandes de motards au Québec – 1980
The report’s introduction continues:
“Indeed, these gangs are well structured and their members appeared to us as major traffickers in drugs and offensive weapons. It is from there that they obtain most of their means of subsistence as well as the capital necessary to acquire buildings and very expensive motorcycles.”
“The number of crimes of which they are guilty, the sexual orgies of which young girls sometimes underage are victims, their dirty clothes, the heavy metal belts, the knives, the chains and the metal badges they wear, their sessions initiation secrets have earned them the admiration and fear of others. But we must keep in mind that all this staging is only a facade to cover up well-established criminal organizations whose activities are very lucrative.”Les bandes de motards au Québec – 1980
The introduction ends with this account of the typical biker, and it’s telling because – though not specifically addressing Lennoxville – it gives an accurate account of how drugs might take control of a high school like Alexander Galt or a college like Champlain and Bishops – how organized crime could co-exist with seemingly upstanding homeowners and local businesses in a sleepy little tourist town:
“Needless to say, the meeting with a 22-year-old biker physically built as a “piano mover”, who receives a social assistance check of $ 417.00 per month on the pretext that occasional asthma prevent him from having a job, and who confesses to us that in reality he leads a very comfortable life because he is a wholesaler of drugs sold to adolescents in secondary schools and cegeps, is an experience that we have experienced and that should be the launch of a collective effort to eliminate these unnecessary and harmful groups.”Les bandes de motards au Québec – 1980
The heart of the report we will get to at another time. For now I want to jump to the report’s conclusion, and scattering of some of the closing remarks:
“The “Outlaws” and the “Hell’s Angels” “are arguably the most powerful clubs on the North American continent and possibly the world. The “Hell’s” have their headquarters in Oakland, California; the “Outlaws” are established in Chicago, Illinois, as the attached annexations show.
During the 1970s we saw the “Hells Angels” and the “Outlaws” lead an Intensive campaign to amalgamate the other motorcycle clubs with a view to exerting ever greater territorial grip and making substantial profits. in the drug trade, prostitution, counterfeiting and other related crimes. Several members of these gangs are now investing their profits in legitimate businesses: restaurants, shops, furniture, etc. In the following chapters, we relate the main incidents and the activities of bikers in each of the regions visited during this investigation.
The evidence shows us the evolution of bikers. The turbulent youth have moved on to organized crime. Weak clubs rally to stronger ones when they are not devoured by them. Lucre wins, thanks to narcotics. Bikers engage in all kinds of criminal activity, as long as it pays. We’re actually seeing a restructuring of clubs that will make them more powerful, more elusive.
In Quebec, there are 14 biker clubs with a criminal tendency, which should not be confused with a majority of honest sportsmen….
It is known that, in the province of Ontario, the “Outlaws” have recently allied Toronto’s two most powerful clubs: the ”Vagabonds” and the” Para-Dice”. They took over the “Satan’s Choice”, the “Last Chance”, the “Iron Hawgs” as well as the “Queens Men” and the “Lobos”, in the area of Windsor.
This annexation phenomenon began to make itself felt in Quebec as well. The “Hell’s” absorbed the “Popeyes” of Montreal and became affiliated with the “Marauders” of Asbestos, the “Missiles” of Lac Saint-Jean and the “Sex Fox” of Chlbougamau.
To the “Outlaws” in Quebec, they had already absorbed the “Satan’s Choice” of Montreal and they recently succeeded in affiliating themselves with the “Nomads” of Valleyfield.
Women are abused in motorcycle clubs; after a first motorcycle ride, the young girl is exploited like a thing. It belongs to a member or to all members of the club. Sooner or later she will be abused. Many work as dancers while withdrawing from social assistance which they pass on to the bikers. They often become prostitutes.”
To many this will all seem like old news, quaint even. To me it is astonishing that as early as 1979 the Quebec government had a full grasp of the problem at hand and still did not see the need to address the crisis with any serious actions. And this is clear when we turn to CECO’s recommendations:
“We recommend to the directors of municipal police forces to ‘inspire the methods used by your authorities in Quebec City and its police force to eliminate the annoying and noisy presence of bikers among your local and tourist population of Old Quebec, within the limits of this territory. The police force of your city of Quebec also applies for your entire summer season a foot patrol program which employs two to six police officers in the evening depending on the extent of the foreseeable faults. The instructions given to the police officers who carry out this patrol and the equipment with which they are provided should, in agreement with the authorities of the police force of the city of Quebec who deserve to be recognized for their efforts and their success in the field, do subject of verifications on the initiative of the police forces which have to intervene to suppress the escapades of the motorcyclists, in order to apply at home the fruit of a profitable experience and fertile in results. “Les bandes de motards au Québec – 1980
I’m not kidding, that’s it. To the prospect of biker gangs totally overrunning society, and overtaking business, government, and property transactions the government of Quebec recommended increased foot patrols and (I guess?) a noise reduction ordinance.
It’s like putting a bandaid on an amputation.