Hells Angels clubhouses raided in three provinces
Toronto police said the pre-dawn raids of multiple Hells Angels and Bacchus Motorcycle Clubhouses resulted in arrests and major seizures on Wednesday. But they shied away from giving specifics.
Police swooped down on 12 locations in Toronto and 20 other throughout Ontario in the string of raids on Hells Angels clubhouses and their affiliates.
"We're expecting to get somewhere in the area of 40 arrests and we're supposed to get pounds and pounds and pounds of drugs, weapons, and other paraphernalia," Ontario Provincial Police Const. Pam Higham told CTV Newsnet.
Police smashed through the heavy brick wall of Toronto's biggest and most visible clubhouse at 498 Eastern Avenue in Toronto. A battering ram, chainsaws and a hook connected to a truck were all used to gain access to the building.
When the sun came up a gaping hole could be seen in the building's front wall.
A police news conference revealed little about what they found inside the club or whether they made any arrests.
But CTV News has learned that at least 18 full-patch members of the Hells Angels were arrested on drug and weapons-related offences. A police source also told CTV News that Hells Angels spokesperson Donnie Peterson was among the members arrested.
Officers also took down the Hells Angels sign on the front of the building, replacing it with a sign saying it had been seized by police.
"The seizure of the Hells Angels headquarters ... should send a very clear message to those who choose criminal lifestyles," Toronto police Staff Insp. Joe Tomei said during an afternoon press conference.
"It has to go through the court process," he said later. "But right now, we own the building."
Peppered with questions about the investigation, evidence, seizures and arrests, Tomei said nothing except that police were still "processing" the information. He repeatedly told reporters to wait until Thursday for an Ontario Provincial Police news conference.
"Again, I cannot get into details," Tomei said, drawing laughter from reporters who were left wondering why the press conference was called.
"Like I said, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to get the full and more detailed briefing."
Toronto was only one of another 20 locations raided in Ontario. Similar raids took place in New Brunswick and British Columbia.
Led by the Biker Enforcement Unit, the raids were conducted by 300 officers. Twenty tactical teams were also needed for the raids.
The raids, dubbed Project Develop, were the result of an 18-month investigation by the specialized unit.
The Biker Enforcement Unit is made up of representatives from 18 different police agencies in Ontario, as well as members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Criminal Intelligence Service of Ontario.
Julian Sher, who has written about the Hells Angels, said the raids struck at the heart of the organization.
"This is a raid that is based on an investigation and it is targeting both drugs and weapons," Sher said. "It's significant that they attacked the Eastern Avenue clubhouse. That's always been the nerve centre of the Hells Angels."
Sher added that if police can make the "charges stick," it could also strike a blow to the group's public relations profile "as just a bunch of boys that want to have fun."
But that evaluation is disputed by another biker expert. Yves Lavigne doubts police found much in their raids.
"Biker clubhouses have been raided for decades. They know not to keep guns, drugs or incriminating evidence there and none has ever been found in a clubhouse in this province," Lavigne said.
"But it's good for the media, it's good for the cameras."
Lavigne added that early-morning raids rarely find anyone important.
"You're guaranteed not to have any bikers there. There will be one overnight guard trying to stay awake, especially at 6:30 in the morning."
Officers with the OPP were tightlipped when contacted Wednesday morning.
"There were several warrants executed, buildings entered, by a number of police services throughout Ontario and beyond," OPP officer Bob Paterson told CTV.ca by telephone from Toronto Police 55 Division.
Police view the operation as a success. Higham said.
"It appears at this point to be successful. We are still waiting for some teams to report in so I might be a little sketchy on some of the details. But it looks good so far."
Meanwhile, the Hells Angels were quick to speak out about the raids.
On the club's website, Real Deal News, the headline read "Here they come, police raid Hells Angels across Ontario."
The group said they will "continue to report the latest news, as long as we can" in response to the raids.
With a report from CTV's John Musselman and files from The Canadian Press