Police ask public to avoid area near Hells Angels convention this weekend

 In what police describe as an elaborate show of force, up to 700 Hells Angels bikers and associates are expected to descend on a rural Quebec town this weekend for their annual national gathering.

Quebec provincial police say they'll be keeping close tabs as the so-called Canada Run settles in for a few days in the Monteregie region southeast of Montreal.

The mandatory meeting for the roughly 500 full-patch members nationwide changes province every year, with last year's edition held in Calgary and the 2016 version taking place in Carlsbad Springs, near Ottawa.

"We have 500 full-patch members in Canada, but you can expect support groups, other motorcycle gangs that gravitate around the Hells Angels to also show up, so that's why we're evaluating anywhere between 500 and 700 bikers showing up," provincial police Insp. Guy Lapointe said in an interview.

Lapointe said the event, the first national get-together in Quebec since 2008, is meant as a show of force by the bikers, with the message aimed at authorities as well as rival organized crime groups.

For police, it presents a unique opportunity to gather intelligence, photos and court-worthy evidence on the Hells with virtually every full-patch member in a single spot, he added.

In Quebec, the gang has the drug trafficking market cornered. Not surprisingly, provincial police have made organized crime their investigative priority since 2017.

"It's practically a monopoly -- they control 98 per cent of the market when it comes to cocaine and synthetic drugs," Lapointe said.

Lapointe said the Hells in Quebec have been emboldened by a series of recent wins before the courts.

"They are more confident, they're coming out, they're showing their flag," Lapointe said.

Le Journal de Montreal reported last month that even Lapointe and his namesake father, former Montreal Canadiens hockey player Guy Lapointe, were the subject of threats, allegedly in the form of a letter from someone associated with the Hells.

Lapointe said an investigation is ongoing about the source of the threat and whether it was founded.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to bend to any intimidation, I'm going to keep doing my job," he said. "The day people start stepping down if there's intimidation, the battle is lost."

While the big events this weekend will be in St-Charles-sur-Richelieu, many Hells members are staying in hotels in nearby St-Hyacinthe, where a city spokeswoman said the mayor is keeping in touch with police.

In St-Charles-sur-Richelieu, Mayor Marc Lavigne said provincial police and the RCMP attended the last council meeting to brief citizens on preparations and answer questions.

Lavigne said there's no bunker in his town, but a property owned by an individual will be used for the gathering.

A representative of the biker group also contacted Lavigne and town officials to learn about various bylaws and permits.

"Everybody believes it will go well, the police will be very present to assure there's no issues," Lavigne said. "We're not anticipating any problems."

Lapointe said there will be a heavy police presence and authorities are vowing to ensure laws are followed and locals in the town of 1,700 aren't bothered by the biker gang's presence.

The veteran officer said police have no special warnings for locals other than to go about business as usual.

However, Lapointe said police did notice a disturbing trend when the bikers were in the Ottawa area two years ago, with citizens taking selfies with biker gang members.

Lapointe described it as a sort of "Sons of Anarchy" phenomenon as he referred to a popular U.S. television show about a fictional biker gang.

"That's something that preoccupies us a little bit because people tend to forget what kind of violence these people are capable of," Lapointe said. "Some people don't remember because they are too young: the (Quebec biker gang) wars in the 1990s, the murders of prison guards.

"But people have to remember this isn't a TV show, there's no script, these aren't actors, people have died. These people use violence and intimidation for their ends so obviously we don't recommend people coming (to see) out of curiosity."