Advertisement

Torture, kidnappings in Quebec drug war should ease with 22nd arrest, experts say

MONTREAL — The arrest of 22 people allegedly tied to a war between criminal groups in Quebec City and the eastern part of the province should ease some of the bloodletting, kidnapping and arson in recent months, organized crime experts said Tuesday.

The conflict involves independent drug dealers who are aligned with a Quebec street gang called Blood Family Mafia and who are refusing to buy drugs from the Hells Angels or pay them for operating on their territories.

In response to the drug war, provincial police launched Opération Scandaleux on Friday to try and quell the various conflicts that have erupted in eastern Quebec, such as arsons, shootings and other violent crimes for which investigations were already underway.

"It's an alliance of numerous drug dealers, some are independent, some are street gang members, but what they have in common is that they don't want to pay the 10-per-cent cut to the Hells Angels," said Maria Mourani, a criminologist and president of Mourani Criminology.

"It's been a long time there has been discontent among street gangs, that they no longer want to work for bikers."

Mourani said that discontent exploded in the Quebec City area. Recent arrests, she said, are helping bring down some of that pressure and taking dangerous individuals off the streets.

"But we haven't solved the problem, more and more street gangs don't want to work for biker gangs," Mourani said, adding that same feeling exists among gangs in Montreal, where there is also a fight over territory.

The uptick in violence has been accompanied by videos distributed within crime networks depicting street gang members allegedly torturing Hells Angels.

"What we know is that they they've been filming the beatings, filming the torture to publish these images on social media and send it to the Hells Angels to pass the message along," said André Gélinas, a retired Montreal police detective sergeant who worked in intelligence and organized crime.

Violence, he said, has routinely been used by criminal groups such as the Italian Mafia, bikers and street gangs, but before, he said, "They were trying to be hidden while they were doing it." The fact they are filming their violence reflects a new approach, he added.

Among those arrested in the sweep are eight men and two women involved in a hostage taking of alleged Hells Angels sympathizers that left one man dead and three injured in St-Malachie, Que., south of the provincial capital, on Feb. 19.

The charges against them include kidnapping and aggravated assault by "injuring, mutilating, disfiguring and/or endangering one's life."

Patrick Martin, 29, was identified as the deceased, with reports saying he was killed by one of those who had been kidnapped.

Mourani said street gangs posting on social media is a long-standing practice, but videos depicting the torturing of opponents is a first in Quebec. She said it's a practice more commonly associated to Mexican or Colombian cartels or Central American street gangs.

The roundup over the weekend and into this week has included high-ranking members of the Blood Family Mafia.

The group's leader, Dave "Pic" Turmel, remains on the lam and has been sought by Quebec City police since July 2023 as part of an operation launched in February 2019 to counter an increase in violence linked to drug trafficking. There are reports that Turmel is hiding in Europe.

Provincial police Sgt. Hélène St-Pierre said the 22nd person arrested in Opération Scandaleux appeared in Quebec City court on Tuesday. The Crown has said most of the people arrested in recent days are due back in court on Wednesday.

Gélinas said it'll be up to the courts to do their part now that arrests have been made.

"Hopefully it's going to put a bit of a break in (the violence)," he said. "We're crossing our fingers that the courts will do their part."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press