The Quebec Biker War was an almost decade-long territorial conflict between two outlaw motorcycle gangs in Quebec: the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine. The war centred on control over the narcotics trade in Quebec. It was also driven by intense rivalries and deep-seated animosities between major figures in Quebec’s criminal underworld. (See Organized Crime.) The conflict involved over 80 bombings, some 130 cases of arson and 20 disappearances. More than 160 people were killed and over 200 were injured, including many innocent bystanders.
The Quebec Biker War that took place from 1994 to 2002 had its roots in the mid-1970s. In December 1977, the American outlaw motorcycle gang the Hells Angels moved into Quebec by absorbing the Popeyes biker gang. The Hells Angels quickly established themselves in the Quebec drug trade. The biker war (sometimes referred to as the second Quebec biker war) started when the Hells Angels’ attempted to squeeze rival Quebec biker gang the Rock Machine out of the lucrative drug trade.
The Hells Angels were backed by Montreal’s Vito Rizzuto (see Montreal Mafia). The Rock Machine were affiliated with a criminal coalition called Alliance Against the Angels (a.k.a. the Dark Circle). The two central figures in the conflict were the leaders of the two warring gangs: Maurice “Mom” Boucher, the leader of Quebec’s Hells Angels; and Salvatore Cazzetta, leader of the Rock Machine.
Boucher and Cazzetta had once been friends. In the early 1980s, the two men were the leaders of a white-supremacist motorcycle club called the SS. It dominated organized crime in the Pointe-aux-Trembles borough of Montreal. Their falling out came after Boucher joined the Hells Angels. Cazzetta felt that an affiliation with the Angels was unforgivable, given their actions in the so-called Lennoxville Massacre on 24 March 1985. (The Angels resolved an internal dispute between their two Quebec chapters by executing five of their own members at their clubhouse in Sherbrooke.) In response, Cazzetta formed his own outlaw motorcycle club, the Rock Machine, with his brother Giovanni. The Cazzetta brothers were Montreal’s dominant organized crime figures in all areas not controlled by the Montreal Mafia.
By the early 1990s, tensions between the two gangs had been building for some time. The Hells Angels were linked to the Montreal Mafia. But the Cazzetta brothers had ties to other mob and crime syndicates, especially francophone ones. Therefore, the Hells Angels could not expand so long as Cazzetta was still running his club. In the meantime, Boucher set up puppet clubs — small outlaw motorcycle clubs that are affiliated with a bigger club and serve as sources for new recruits. (Creating puppet clubs is a long-standing outlaw biker tactic. It creates a large pool of manpower for various gang activities, while insulating full members of the parent club from any direct connections to criminal activity.) After the Hells Angels began creating puppet clubs, the Rock Machine began creating their own, as well.
The opportunity Boucher had been waiting for came in 1994. Salvatore Cazzetta was given a 10-year prison sentence in Florida for attempting to smuggle cocaine. (He was transferred to a Quebec prison in 2002 and was paroled in 2004.) With Salvatore Cazzetta out of the picture, Boucher’s plan to dominate the Montreal drug trade could now be realized. With the approval of the Hells Angels “mother” chapter in Oakland, California, Boucher issued an ultimatum: anyone dealing drugs in Montreal had to buy their supply from the Hells Angels.
In response to this ultimatum, Giovanni Cazzetta used his connections to build an alliance that would resist the Hells Angels’ attempt to secure a monopoly in the Quebec drug trade. At the time, it was estimated to be worth about $1 billion annually. The Angels were already well established in Quebec, dominant in British Columbia and established in Halifax. They were on their way to controlling all of Canada. If the Angels could take control of Quebec, they would have a strong enough base of operations to the move into Ontario, the biggest drug market in Canada. Cazzetta and the leaders of several other organized crime groups in Montreal joined together to form the Alliance Against the Angels (a.k.a. the Dark Circle).
Beginning of the Conflict
The Quebec Biker War began on 13 July 1994. Three masked men shot and killed Pierre Daoust, a member of a Hells Angels-affiliated club called the Death Riders, at a custom motorcycle shop in Montreal’s Rivière des Prairies neighbourhood.
The Rock Machine struck again the next day, attempting to kill a member of the Hells Angels. Later the same day, Quebec’s provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) arrested several members of the Rock Machine for attempting to blow up the clubhouse of a Hells Angels puppet club on the South Shore of Montreal.
Within weeks, all Hells Angels chapters in Quebec had voted to join the conflict under the leadership of Maurice Boucher. He was on his way to becoming the leader of one of the most powerful outlaw biker club chapters in the world.
Death of Daniel Desrochers
Between the summer of 1994 and the summer of 1995, the conflict resulted in numerous shootings, bombings and murders on both sides. Then, on 9 August 1995, 11-year-old Daniel Desrochers was playing near his home on a residential street in Montreal’s working-class Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district when a car bomb exploded. The car’s driver, drug dealer Marc Dubé, was killed. Desrochers was struck in the head by metal shrapnel and died in hospital five days later. He was the biker war’s first innocent victim.
Over the next several weeks, the violence reached a crescendo. In one week in September 1995, there was an assassination in a parking lot; bombings at a strip club, a bar and the mansion of an organized crime figure; arson attacks on a pawn shop, tanning salon and a used-car lot; and a friendly-fire incident where bikers accidentally killed three members of their own club.
Desrochers’ death galvanized public opinion, particularly against the police, politicians and the justice system. They were all seen as not taking the situation seriously and not doing enough to stop the carnage. In at least one instance, the police openly admitted they were incapable of stopping the violence. A high-ranking Montreal police officer blamed the public for Desrochers’s death by arguing the public’s appetite for illegal drugs was to blame for the biker war.
Desrochers’s death led to Bill C-95 in 1997 and Bill C-24 in 2001. Both laws made punishment for members of organized crime groups harsher. Desrochers’s death also led to the launch of Operation Carcajou on 5 October 1995. The operation was a joint task force comprising top-level officers from the RCMP, the SQ and Montreal’s municipal police force. However, political infighting and animosity between the separatist Parti Québécois government in Quebec and the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien in Ottawa resulted in little more than finger-pointing to assign blame to the other side. By January 1996, the Biker War had caused 28 deaths in 18 months.
Murder of Prison Guards
Two of the most shocking crimes committed during the Quebec Biker War were the 1997 murders of two prison guards — Diane Lavigne and Pierre Rondeau — and the attempted murder of a third, Robert Corriveau. Lavigne was shot by a man on a motorcycle as she was walking home from her shift at Montreal’s Bordeaux Jail. Rondeau was murdered when he and Corriveau were ambushed while driving a prison transport van. It was later discovered that these murders were ordered by Hells Angels boss Maurice Boucher. They were carried out by a biker who wanted to ascend to the Quebec Hells Angels’ elite Nomads unit; it only admitted members who had committed murder.
Attempted Murder of Journalist Michel Auger
Another pivotal moment in the Biker War was the attempted murder of veteran crime reporter Michel Auger in September 2000. Auger was shot six times in the back after being ambushed in the parking lot of his employer, the Journal de Montréal. Despite this, he was able to call 911 from his cell phone. He went on to make a full recovery and resumed his work for the newspaper within three months. In a speech in the National Assembly, Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard praised Auger’s “refusal to remain silent.” It was later determined that the Hells Angels had taken out a contract on his life.
Public reaction to Auger’s attempted murder was extremely negative. It prompted the Hells Angels and Rock Machine to announce a ceasefire. The truce was brokered by the Rizzuto crime family with the Angels’ Boucher and Frédéric Faucher, then president of the Rock Machine. The ceasefire lasted only a few weeks before the violence resumed.
End of the Conflict
By 1999, after years of attacks and counterattacks, the larger and more powerful Hells Angels had largely decimated the Rock Machine and the Alliance. However, in 1999, the Rock Machine became allies of the Bandidos, an international outlaw biker club with chapters around the world. The Angels wanted to prevent the Bandidos from expanding any further into Canada, particularly the lucrative Ontario drug market. In December 2000, nearly 200 Ontario bikers “patched over” to the Hells Angels. (To “patch over” is to be voluntarily absorbed by another club.) This allowed the Angels entry into the coveted Ontario market.
In late March 2001, a crucial police action known as Operation Springtime took place. The massive operation involved the RCMP, the SQ, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Montreal Police and 23 other municipal police forces. Hundreds of bikers across Canada were arrested, including Maurice Boucher and 41 of his associates. This created new voids in Montreal’s illegal drug trade, voids that were quickly filled by the new Bandidos-affiliates. But this windfall for the Bandidos was short-lived. By June 2002, the police had moved against the Bandidos’ Canadian leadership in Operation Bandido. The organization was essentially wiped out in one fell swoop. The Quebec Biker War was over.
The end of the Biker War was brought about by a combination of exhaustion among the belligerents; effective police tactics, which disrupted the activities of the biker gangs and led to many arrests; the defection of members of the Rock Machine to the Hells Angels; and the merger of the Rock Machine with the Bandidos, who ultimately ceded Quebec to the Hells Angels in 2003.
According to journalists Felix Seguin and Eric Thibault, the Biker War ended in June 2002, after the Angels had eliminated all competition among Quebec’s outlaw biker gangs. The war left 165 dead and more than 200 wounded, including innocent bystanders. According to American journalist Julian Rubinstein, the Quebec Biker War claimed more lives, and more thoroughly terrorized the civilian population of Quebec, than the conflict between New York City’s Mafia crime families in the 1970s and 1980s.
In May 2002, Maurice “Mom” Boucher was found guilty of attempted murder and two counts of first-degree murder for ordering the killings of three prison guards. Boucher was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. While serving his sentence at the Archambault Prison in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, he was arrested in November 2015 for plotting to kill Rizzuto family associate Raynald Desjardins. The arrest was part of a series of sweeping raids conducted by the SQ that targeted 47 key organized crime figures in Montreal. On 10 July 2022, Boucher died of throat cancer in prison at age 69.
Following his release from prison in 2005, Salvatore Cazzetta became an official member of the Hells Angels. He was allegedly the leader of the Quebec chapter from 2011 to 2015. He was arrested and charged in 2009 and again during the November 2015 police raids. His charges included five counts of gangsterism and conspiracy to commit fraud. These charges were dropped by a Quebec Superior Court judge in 2017 due to delays in Cazzetta’s trial. But Cazzetta was also denied bail on other charges, including conspiracy to traffic narcotics. In May 2018, Cazzetta sued the Attorney General of Quebec for $2 million, alleging that he had been detained without cause between November 2015 and August 2017. He was also engaged in a legal battle with Revenue Canada over tax returns from the 1980s and 1990s.
In Popular Culture
The Quebec Biker War has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries and TV movies. The Last Chapter (2002), starring Michael Ironside and Roy Dupuis, was loosely based on the Biker War. In 2008, History Television broadcast Outlaw Bikers, a 13-episode docuseries that largely focuses on the war in Quebec. Montreal filmmaker Danic Champoux, who grew up across the street from the Hells Angels’ main bunker and was friends with Maurice Boucher’s son, made the animated short film Mom et moi (2011), about his childhood relationship with the family. Bad Blood, a drama series centred on the Montreal Mafia’s Vito Rizzuto, aired on City-TV and Netflix in 2017–18. In 2020, the Montreal Gazette released an eight-episode podcast called The Dark North: Gangs of Montreal. It covers the biker wars as part of a history of organized crime. The final episode in February 2020 concluded that the Hells Angels, led by Salvatore Cazzetta, were currently the dominant force in the Montreal underworld.
See also Organized Crime in Canada.