47 arrested in massive police operation
Outlaw bikers and street gangs, including a former Olympic weightlifter as well as an associate of former Hell Angels boss Mom Boucher, were the focus of a major police operation in Quebec and Ontario Thursday.
Operation Axe, as it's called, is the largest anti-gang operation in Quebec since the 2001 biker raids. The investigation began in January of 2006. Police have warrants for about 60 suspects -- at least 47 have been arrested.
Some 700 officers raided dozens of locations in the Greater Montreal Region, including Longueuil and Laval -- and as far afield as Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario.
Media images showed Jean Lavertue, a professional weightlifter who participated in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, being arrested.
'Picasso' served behind bars
One suspect was arrested in a Laval prison and another arrest involved a suspect who was already in prison in Kingston, Ont. He is onetime street-gang member and biker Gregory (Picasso) Wooley, who has been in prison for several years on multiple murder and gangsterism charges.
Wooley worked his way up from a street gang to become a full-patch member of the Rockers, a puppet club of the Hells Angels. Mom Boucher personally awarded the Rockers patch to Wooley and the two became close associates.
'Huge operation': police
"We're talking about a very huge operation," Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafreniere told CTV on Thursday morning. "Just from the Montreal police service we have over 500 people involved."
In addition to the 500 Montreal officers, there were 200 from Ottawa, the RCMP, and Laval and Longueuil police services.
The crackdown follows a lengthy investigation into drug trafficking and other gang activities.
Lafreniere said the operation was the culmination of several years of police investigations that began in January 2006.
The suspects face a variety of charges, most notably trafficking of cocaine and gangsterism. They will be arraigned Thursday or Friday.
The raids targeted senior gang members involved with the importation and sale of cocaine.
In 2001, police carried out another major operation against biker gangs. That sweep involved 1,700 officers and shook the structure of some of Quebec's most infamous gangs.
The groups targeted in that operation have been restructured in recent years, and Thursday's operation was intended to once again cripple the criminal networks.
When police arrested a number of members of the Hells Angels in the 2001 raids, the street gangs came in to fill the void and the bikers have since regained some of their strength.
Both organizations now work together to run the drug trade with the bikers handling importation while street gangs take care of distribution.
Will raids work?
Investigative reporter and author Julian Sher says criminal gangs will endure, though he acknowledges Thursday's raids are a serious blow to the gangs.
"It's much more of a one two punch," Sher told CTV News.
"Going after not just the Hells Angels but also their key street gangs in Montreal and around the city that are bringing drugs into our streets."