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Assault weapons and firebombings? That’s an escalation of the drug trade in this province, for sure.

But Hells Angels in Newfoundland? Nothing new at all.

It was big news when RNC Chief Robert Johnston said police believed a drive-by shooting and a firebombing were connected — and connected to the organized drug trade, as well.

People quickly heard the name of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

First, let’s parse the language used by the chief of police a little bit: “One person interviewed indicated that he’s in the process of establishing a Hells Angels chapter in St. John’s,” Chief Robert Johnston said on Monday.

Well, if there’s anything that doesn’t sound like the Hells Angels modus operandi, it’s someone boasting about trying to establish a chapter to the police.

The Hells Angels usually work from the outside in — and they prefer to work quietly. Any police officer will tell you that they have been active in this province in one way or another for years. In recent years, other police forces have said, that’s been through the establishment of a satellite motorcycle gang, the Bacchus Motorcycle Club. That club already has established members (and, apparently, two full chapters) in Newfoundland, as well as the Maritime provinces.

And Hells Angels-related drug arrests and seizures have been going on in the province for decades.

Their presence was well known in the province in the 1980s, if not earlier, and has been publicly discussed by the police for years.

“I think we were all somewhat shocked to see the level of sophistication, and the connections between the drug activity here in the province … with outlaw motorcycle gangs in the province of Quebec,” Johnston said in 2007. Then-RCMP assistant commissioner Gerry Lynch made a connection to the Hells Angels at the same policing conference.

In 2006, it was then-RNC chief Joe Browne, talking about arrests related to a major drug seizure: “(The St. John’s members are) not full-patch members. They’re all associates in one way or another to Quebec organized crime groups, including the Hells Angels. They’ve been here in the past and we’re under no illusion that they won't be here in the future. … Their tentacles reach throughout the country. We’re not isolated from it. They’re not as established here as they are in Quebec, where they actually have identifiable headquarters. And our job is, to the extent we can, to prevent that from happening.”

In 2003, it was the federal Criminal Intelligence Service Canada: the Hells Angels business in Atlantic Canada had taken a hit from police work, but “the Hells Angels continue to attempt to operate and reconsolidate their sphere of influence.”

Large-scale drug importers in the province have had organized crime-related suppliers stretching back into the ’70s.

Perhaps what makes this all new is that it has moved to new, more upscale neighbourhoods and more public displays of violence — but the roots have been set in our soil for a very, very long time.

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