Part 2 in a two-part series
The sight of motorcyclists zooming down the roads around the province is becoming more common these days.
For the majority of riders, motorcycling is for the sheer enjoyment of it. Putting on leather jackets, leather chaps and gloves and hitting the open road gives people a sense of freedom and adventure.
But not all bikers are focused on fun.
For the tens of thousands of people who ride motorcycles, there’s a small group in this province believed to be associated with organized criminal activity.
They’re known as the one percenters — a term pegged decades ago that referred to the percentage of bikers who don’t follow society’s rules.
They proudly wear the “1%” insignia on their three-tier patches, which also shows their club name and chapter location.
Police call them Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (OMCs) and both the RCMP and RNC are well aware of their existence in this province.
Gangs like The Outlaws and Bacchus in Grand Falls-Windsor, as well as a few in St. John’s, have drawn the attention of law enforcement, which have linked them to organized criminal groups in other parts of the country.
Outlaw biker gangs in Canada have become a serious problem for police and the general public, who worry about the safety of their communities.
Linked with serious crime
Across the country, these highly territorial gangs have been linked with murders, drug trafficking, prostitution, bombings and other violent attacks. They’re known to use intimidation and violence to get what they want. To avoid detection from police, they often enlist the help of other support clubs to create a network.
Biker gangs, such as the notorious Hells Angels, have been around, behind the scenes, for decades in this province. It’s only now they’re becoming more noticeable as they are displaying their club colours.
Concerns about outlaw motorcycle clubs in this province have prompted the provincial government and the police to recently establish a joint force operation that aims to combat organized crime and illegal drug activity, often associated with these groups.
The force was responsible for uncovering a drug operation on Kenmount Terrace on July 3.
In the course of their search, more than 30 pounds of marijuana, a small amount of cocaine and cash were discovered.
“Organized crime is a problem throughout the province,” RNC deputy chief Bill Janes told The Telegram.
Drug trafficking appears to be the main focus of these outlaw biker groups, he added.
“When you look into our communities, the most common thing you’ll see are drug traffickers,” Janes said.
“These are profitable ventures, but they can also be involved in fraud and prostitution.”
Boom drawing groups
These groups are becoming more prevalent here, he said, because there’s money to be made as a result of this province’s booming economy.
“They’re driven by profit,” he said. “When an economy is growing, there’s opportunity for legitimate businesses, but also illegal activity.”
He said the violence that sometimes follows these outlaw groups is mostly internal conflicts amongs clubs.
However, he said, bikers use propaganda to mask their criminal activity.
For the most part, bikers’ donations to charities across this province are legitimate.
However, Janes said some outlaw clubs take part in raising money for charities as a way of improving their image in the community.
“They’re well-funded organizations,” Janes said. “They try to market themselves, improve their grand name, try and build public support, but at same time they’re committing crimes that harm community.
“They try and affiliate themselves with legitimate groups, riding their coattail. That’s the strategy they use to try and promote their organization.
“But they’re wolves in sheeps’ clothing.”
RCMP Staff Sgt. Jim Power said outlaw groups in this province have become a concern for police.
“We see the history on these groups and some are linked to organized crime,” he said. “As they expand and get more powerful, it becomes a big concern.”
The OMC chapters in this province are in their infancy — having been formed within the last few years — but there has already been incidents that have been linked to biker activity.
The drive-by shooting on Dauntless Street in St. John’s in early June, as well as the fire bombing of a car on Hamilton Avenue shortly afterwards were both suspected to have been biker gang related. Sources told The Telegram those incidents were the result of a territorial feud between outlaw biker gangs.
The major drug busts, such as Operation Roadrunner and Operations Razorback, which resulted in the arrests of dozens of people police, were believed to have had ties to outlaw biker gangs.
In St. John’s, members of the George Street Association recently met with the RNC to express their concerns about gang-related activity in that popular downtown area.
Grand Falls-Windsor is believed to be the only place in Atlantic Canada with two one percent clubs. The Outlaws are one of the largest in country, while Bacchus, has been well established for years.
As these OMCs become more prominent in our communities, police are keeping a close eye to these groups to ensure they operate within the confines of the law.
“Whether it’s a riding group or OMC, it’s not illegal to belong to these clubs. By law, they’re allowed,” Power said. “These groups can operate because they travel freely, just like any other person without hindrances.
“But we have an interest in these (one percent) groups. Because they have an identified patch, known to be a one percenter. It’s no secret. They acknowledge the obvious.”
But sometimes, it’s not so obvious. Power said police also keep an eye to groups who aren’t so overt.
“Sometimes it’s one of these things, we will never come out and say they are notified as OMC,” he said. “So, we’re careful how we classify them. They must abide by the same laws by everyone else.”
He said police work in conjunction with police forces across the country to identify outlaw club members. Information is transferred nationally.
However, Power said the public can also help in controlling these groups by refusing to accept them in their communities.
“If these groups are embraced by the community, we may see them flourish,” Power said. “But If the community takes the position, ‘we, don’t want this organization in our community,’ and report any activity, it would depend on the group itself and what’s available for them to achieve their objectives.”