This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Six years have passed since the warm, clear, and otherwise ordinary spring morning of April 15, 2009, when 1,200 police officers stormed Hells Angels targets and systematically shut the bikers down in Quebec. In an elaborate net laid out over the course of three years, 111 full-patch members were taken in raids; Operation SharQc had the effect of utterly gutting the gang in la belle province, where the Angels ruled the Canadian leg of their underground empire.
From that bust, though, the Angels have remerged, reborn out of a fire lit in part by the authorities tasked with extinguishing the gang. After 18 bikers pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit murder, only 27 of the 156 people initially indicted in SharQc had cases pending. Most of the men were sentenced to short-term stints, some time served. Like 2001's Operation Springtime, which resulted in the arrest of 122 bikers in the province, SharQc has proved more temporarily debilitating than lethal to the Hells Angels.
As the dramas of SharQc continue to play out in Quebec courtrooms, the HA have motioned they are moving back into the province, a resurgence marked by the emergence of the Red Devils Motorcycle Club in Canada. Since the spring of 2014, the Devils have opened chapters in Montreal, Barrie, Toronto, Ottawa, and two over the bridge on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.
In the confounding Canadian biker gang landscape, this has added an unknown but undeniably dangerous new variable. The Red Devils MC has chapters in nearly 20 countries and, as the official Hells Angels official support club—a kind of minor league training team for future members of the major league squad—the esoteric Devils are, by general rule, younger and hungrier than the older Angels.
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In Montreal, the gang's clubhouse on the city's south shore is unwelcoming to outsiders. Detective Sergeant Len Isnor of the Ontario Provincial Police's Biker Enforcement Unit warned me against rapping on the door. Getting a warm reception, he cautioned, would be unlikely. Besides, the prospect of any patch member speaking to a journalist was low. If one did, Isnor assured, that man would catch a severe beating and be out of the club next day for talking to a reporter.
"All of the future Hells Angels are going to come from them. They recruit on loyalty—they know that the people are not police officers, they're not informants, they know that they're loyal and they'll do anything for them," he said. "Quebec is rebuilding and it's going to start again. They're looking for people to form the organization the way it was in the past and what a great way to start by forming a group that they can draw from."
As if to underline the audacious way the Red Devils move, their start in Canada spelled the end of a mostly calm chapter in Canadian biker history for the country's oldest outlaw motorcycle gang. Prompted by the insurgence of the new Devils, all 31 members of the original Red Devils in Hamilton, Sudbury, and Chatham patched over to New Brunswick-based Bacchus MC, ending a 66-year run for the original Red Devils.
The way former Red Devil leader and now Bacchus member Ray Philp remembered the play, even police were shocked. "Times change," he sighed, reflecting on the loss of the club's logo. "It wasn't pleasing but I understand a bit where they were going. Those other guys coming in was part of the decision, there's no doubt."
Even Toronto Star journalist and gang expert Peter Edwards, who has penned a number of books on Canadian gangs and effectively has his thumb on the pulse of the underworld in this country, said he was surprised to see the original Red Devils patch over to Bacchus. He pointed out that the original Devils held a reasonably respected position over their 60-plus years on the scene. For the most part, he said, Philp and company maintained a clean front.
"They were pretty smart about not really offending people, so it was a bit odd to see them go under," said Edwards. "They were blue-collar riders who happened to have bikes but weren't troublemakers. If you looked around for a story with a lot of outrage, you'd have to go back a couple decades."
An interesting footnote of the Red Devils move into the country is timing. Why now? In 2002, Philp said he met with Red Devils MC leaders from the US and they assured him the gang would not move in out of respect for the Canadian outfit. Though the original Devils were warned the new group was backing down on that verbal agreement, no formal discussion was held last year.
Isnor said he thought that may have been part of the butterfly effect from Project Hammer, which led to a near closure of the Halifax Angels and allowed Bacchus to expand throughout the Atlantic provinces during the early 2000s. Once an ally of sorts to the HA, Bacchus was seen as moving in on their territory after the bust. Because the original Red Devils were known to roll with Bacchus, the two groups got lumped together in the eyes of the Angels.
Of course, the main reason for the Red Devils move into Canada has to be that the Angels are readying to hit the streets of Quebec again. "The Red Devils are in Montreal because the Hells Angels of Quebec opened their first chapter here since Operation SharQc," said La Presse crime reporter Daniel Renaud. "It means that the Hells Angels are back, they want to take over in the province, but it also means a change of mind."
That change, said Renaud, was as much administrative as cultural. In the 90s, the Angels in Canada were known to have any number of support clubs like the Rockers, Death Riders, and Jokers. Now, almost every member of the HA will come from the Red Devils. In essence, wherever a Red Devils chapter exists, so too will a training squad for the world's most notorious biker gang.
An isolated tactic like drawing talent from one pool is only one of the telling signs the HA are getting smarter, better, despite two major busts in less than a decade. In spite of—or maybe thanks to—the incarceration of the majority of its Quebec members, Canada's Angels have seemingly learned from some of the grave mistakes of the past, no doubt in part by studying the expanse of paperwork from the SharQc cases.
"The big thing to remember about the Hells Angels is they're constantly being underestimated and they're constantly coming up stronger," said Edwards. "For Montreal the Hells Angels are kind of essential for the mafia. The Hells Angels have a better link than the old Rizzuto family with the Haitian gangs."
For many reasons, the Angels and their minor league Devils would set the tone for how things played out in the Canadian outback, according to Edwards. In addition to being essential to the mafia's operations in Montreal, the Angels serve the role of mediator between many of Canada's shady types. Because puppet clubs like the Red Devils can have non-white members, they have the advantage of being able to do business with black street gangs.
While there's no denying Operations Springtime and SharQc had an immediate impact and marked a huge blow to the Angels, there's also no denying the Angels are readying for a renaissance in Quebec. An obvious example of the club's new life is the sight of the Red Devils MC patch in a growing number of Canadian cities. Lately, the Devils are readying to move in on Hamilton, home turf of the original Devils.
From his post at the original Red Devils clubhouse—a tough but welcoming spot at 30 Arden Avenue on the Hamilton Beach Strip—Philp didn't hide his disappointment. Though it wasn't his door kicked in on that fateful April morning six years ago, it may well have been.
He'd lost a patch worn on his back like a tattoo since 18 and, worse, watched the care-free Canadian biker way of life he loved stripped for parts before his eyes.
"It used to be you get on your bike and ride and party," he reflected. "Maybe you'd get into a little mischief but it was all about the fun. It's unfortunate."