Quebec Police Set Up Special Task Force to Deal With Latest Mob War

Experts say power struggles within the Sicilian Mafia and against rival factions like the Calabrian Ndrangheta are likely to end with more violence and police can do little to stop it.

by Nick Rose
May 16 2019, 3:42pm

Scene of the Sheraton hotel shooting in Laval | Image via CP. 

Police in Montreal’s largest suburb are working with provincial and federal law enforcement in an aggressive crackdown on organized crime following a number of high-profile murders.

On Monday, Laval police chief Pierre Brochet announced the creation of Project Repercussion and a specialized task force made up of agents from Laval’s Service de police (SPL), Sûreté du Québec (SQ), and the RCMP, to work together in the wake of a recent rash of very public shootings. However, organized crime experts told VICE that this new task force will do little to get to the root of the problem.

The project's name, as well of the police chief’s tone, left little doubt as to the ultimate goal of the operation.

“We will not hesitate to double down on our efforts and maintain the security of our citizens at any cost,” Brochet said in a statement, adding, “The fact that an individual opened fire inside of a hotel with total disregard for repercussions. It’s unacceptable!”

Brochet was referring to the death of 49-year-old Salvatore Scoppa, who was shot multiple times in the lobby of a Sheraton Hotel in Laval on May 4, in close proximity to children and family members.

Scoppa, who had well-documented ties with organized crime in Montreal, was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. The brazenness of the attack prompted the creation of the new task force that police say will be “omnipresent in businesses frequented by individuals linked to organized crime, notably bars, restaurants, and other licensed establishments.”

Police also promised more officers “on the ground,” an increase in “interventions to suppress any act of violence (possession of weapons, intimidation, etc.),” and information gathering relative to organized crime.

The announcement was made after a string of shootings that took place in Montreal’s suburbs.

On May 10, less than a week after Scoppa’s death, an unidentified 25-year-old man was killed after being gunned down at a restaurant in Brossard, on Montreal’s South Shore. Police found a gun and a burning car nearby shortly thereafter.

On May 12, Éric Chabot, a 42-year-old private investigator and father of five with no criminal record was gunned down near his home in Terrebonne, just north of Laval. While Terrebonne police suspected a link with organized crime and handed the investigation over to provincial investigators, no such connection has been established as of yet.

Coincidentally, Terrebonne is also where Salvatorre Scoppa survived an earlier attempt on his life after being shot outside of a restaurant in 2017. Scoppa’s fate was also a topic of conversation between Leonardo Rizzuto (son of late Montreal mob boss Vito Rizzutto), Stefano Sollecito (Vito’s rumoured interim successor), and Montreal street gang leader Gregory Wooley in 2015, obtained during the SQ’s massive Magot-Mastiff operation, which deployed more than 200 officers and led to the arrests of 43 individuals suspected of ties with organized crime.

These conversations were surreptitiously recorded by police inside the office of Loris Cavaliere (a Montreal lawyer who later pleaded guilty to gangsterism in 2017) and revealed Rizzuto, Sollcito, and Wooley discussing a plot to kill Scoppa, who apparently posed a threat to drug trafficking operations, before being dissuaded by Leonardo Rizzutto.

Salvatore Scoppa was the brother of equally notorious Andrew Scoppa, once named “the head of a Mafia clan in Montreal” by an SQ officer during a bail hearing in 2017.

For John Westlake, a retired 34-year veteran of both Montreal and RCMP organized crime units, who knew both Scoppa brothers personally, the creation of the Repercussion task force is of no surprise and little consolation.

“Now they’re calling for a ‘War against the Mafia’!” Westlake told VICE. “Did you read that in the papers? Give me a break! They’ve been doing a war on the Mafia for a hundred fucking years—nobody wins. If you look at the history of the Mafia, they all take care of their own and they kill who they don’t want in the picture, and that’s how it goes. But the hotel thing could have been a lot more serious, with all those kids running around.”

Westlake said that Salvatore Scoppa’s murder was so extreme that it forced police to react aggressively, but that Repercussion will probably have a more soothing effect on public opinion than on controlling mob violence.

“The last time something serious like this happened was with the Hells, when the kid got blown up near the car in the street,” Westlake said, referring to the death of 11-year-old Daniel Desrochers during the early years of the Quebec biker war. “And then the government wakes up and says, ‘OK, let’s put a bit of heat.’ [...] But the killing still goes on.”

Antonio Nicaso agrees. Nicaso is an expert on organized crime who has written extensively about Montreal’s organized crime factions, as depicted in his book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto's Last War, which was later adapted into the TV show Bad Blood.

“There is only a reaction when we see atrocity and when we see an increase in violence,” Nicaso said. “Now, because Scoppa was killed in front of many people, like in a Western movie, it forces a kind of reaction.

“After 9/11, they moved all of the resources and money away from organized crime against terrorists in the name of national security. That is the main issue. We lost track with intelligence. Building and rebuilding task forces doesn’t make any sense to me.”

While neither Westlake or Nicaso would speculate as to who could be behind the murder, they both said that his death marks a shift in the delicate balance of power of organized crime in Quebec, which has been marred by internal violence within the Sicilian Mafia as well as the resurgence of the rival Ontario-based Ndragheta.

“He was part of a power struggle,” Nicaso said, recalling the chaos that followed Vito Rizzuto’s imprisonment and death. “Scoppa was one of the most important players in this conflict and this is another indication that there will be more violence until they settle and fill the void left by [Vito] Rizzuto. We should expect nothing good. There will be more murders. There will be more violence.”

In fact, for Nicaso, the very nature of Scoppa’s murder is a testament to the volatility and brutal absurdity of Quebec’s seemingly interminable mob war.

“It shows that they have no respect for the victims or the victims’ families,” he said. “Killing Scoppa in front of many, many people is an indication that there is an increase in violence and that there are no rules. There is nothing. There is only violence to eliminate violence.”

Scoppa’s funeral, which was scheduled to take place in Montreal’s Little Italy on Monday was cancelled, with police citing possible “dangers.” No arrests have been made in connection to any of the three shootings that preceded the announcement of Project Repercussion.

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