Manitoba law enforcement officials made headlines across the nation yesterday for what the Winnipeg Free Press called a “relentless” court campaign being waged against the Hells Angels.
As our sister paper reported, police arrested nine Hells members and associates last month as part of Project Flatlined and laid a number of drug and gang-related charges.
Those arrested include Manitoba chapter president Dale Sweeney, who also had several vehicles and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle seized under the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act, which allows authorities to take possession of the proceeds of crime.
But what caught our eye was the fact that at least seven other members and associates have been arrested in recent weeks, despite there being no evidence they have committed any crimes.
All of these people are being hit with rarely used peace bonds under Section 810.01 of the Criminal Code, which “allows for intervention where there is a fear of a criminal organization or terrorism offence.”
Essentially, that federal law allows a provincial court judge to order that the defendant enter into a recognizance to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for up to 12 months, an agreement that can include varied conditions. If they break the peace bond, or refuse to enter into one, the judge can commit the defendant to prison for up to 12 months.
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is defined by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Commission as the “world’s largest outlaw motorcycle gang.” It has about 180 chapters around the world, with 18 Canadian chapters and some 200 members across the country.
A National Gang Threat Assessment conducted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2011, said the Hells Angels, among other members of several regional- and national-level gangs smuggle large quantities of illicit drugs across the U.S.-Canada border.
All over North America, Hells Angels members make headlines for criminal activity, for everything from mortgage fraud in San Francisco and drug trafficking in Yellowknife to a pair of murders in Toronto, among countless other offences.
In short, this is a massive criminal organization that has become a huge problem for law enforcement officials in every corner of the country.
And yet, police forces are making headway, most often by collaborating with each other. For example, Project Develop, a joint 18-month investigation that culminated in more than 30 arrests last May, involved eight RCMP detachments, and several other related policing agencies.
But sources have told the Free Press that this is one of the first times Manitoba Justice officials have used peace bonds to fight organized crime. Under terms laid out by the court, the year-long peace bond orders defendants to have no contact with any Hells Angels member or associate in the province, a list of people that includes more than 50 names.
The wording of the Criminal Code suggests that the peace bond measures that were introduced into the Criminal Code in the late 1990s are supposed to be preventative, not punitive — and therefore can be used to deal with individuals who have no previous criminal record.
Our justice system is supposed to be based on the idea that a Canadian citizen is innocent until proven guilty. This specific pre-crime legislation essentially sentences people for being guilty by association.
We understand the significance of what Justice and police officials are trying to do — shut down Hells Angels in Manitoba and any other groups involved in organized crime. We applaud their determination and their efforts. Nevertheless, taking away anyone’s right to due process, under the guise of crime prevention, should be concerning.
For those who think that concern is ill-founded, consider this: Canadians were outraged when the federal government proposed to infringe on Canada’s Internet privacy in order to fight child molesters.
Is our right to a fair trial equally important? What do you think?
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 11, 2012