(This column was published in the North Shore News on Aug. 8, 2001)


Crime fighters need cash

By Leo Knight

LAST week's discussion of the convictions of two Hells Angels for conspiracy to traffic cocaine only told part of the story of Vancouver Police Department's Project Nova.


For years police have been claiming the Hells Angels were a significant organized crime group. The bikers' PR strategy has been orchestrated to counter that argument with claims they were merely a bunch of guys who liked to ride motorcycles. They unashamedly used events like the Toy Run to bolster their propaganda.


During that time, the Angels would taunt the police at every opportunity and bolstered their arguments with their lawyers claiming the gang members didn't have recent criminal records, so how could they be organized crime?


Of course it is all nonsense. But the lack of prosecutions and the inherent desire of the masses to deify the gangster class all played into the bikers' hands. The murderous war fought in the streets of Quebec did much to alter the public's perception of the 1%ers. But despite the blood running on the streets of Montreal and Laval, the message did not translate easily to the east end of Vancouver, let alone the tree-lined streets of Deep Cove and the British Properties, home to members of the club.


The Angels even co-opted the likes of SFU Professor Neil Boyd to testify in their defence in Calgary last summer, saying the Hells Angels were not an organized crime group, openly contradicting a colleague of his at the same university who had published an earlier study saying quite the opposite.


Project Nova was successful because of the efforts of a few diligent, dedicated and courageous police officers and, because of the ability of former Vancouver Chief Constable Ray Canuel to think like a cop and not a politician, as most senior police officers tend to do.


One of the other reasons Nova was a success was because the investigators recognized the possibility that the police community had been penetrated by the bikers and the only way to succeed was to ensure a total information blackout on the existence of the investigation itself from anyone not directly involved. This included the office of the Attorney General.


To a degree, it was because of the lack of prosecutions and the apparent lack of intestinal fortitude displayed by officials within the ministry to take on the bikers, which led the investigators to their suspicions.


Suspicions, which I might add, have yet to be allayed.


During Project Nova, once the agent had been handed down by the two Angels subsequently convicted of the conspiracy, the VPD members began a "full-blown wire op." What this means is that all the targets were undergoing full-time electronic and physical surveillance. A very costly and time-consuming process.


During this period of time, police surveillance units watched the two bikers traveling together in the same car and literally holding sales meetings with their "employees," the means of distributing their poison to the masses.


It is also important to note how the group, while not specifically involved in each other's business, act as a single entity to enhance the individual member's ability to conduct that business. When Boyd testified in Calgary, he stated the Angels did not operate as an organized group. While it is true on the surface, none of the business is done in the name of the gang as a collective. It is also true that each member uses their membership to intimidate and to support their endeavours.


For example, when Ronnie Lissing was arrested in March of 1997, for his part in the Nova conspiracy on Main Street in Vancouver, wearing his colours, a call was placed by a club associate who witnessed the takedown, to the East End clubhouse announcing the arrest. Then "hang around" and now full-patch member, Rob Alvarez, went to Lissing's house assumedly to "sanitize" it prior to police arrival.


Unbeknownst to Alvarez and his biker masters, the VPD Strike Force surveillance team was already lying in wait. Alvarez entered the house empty-handed and emerged a short time later carrying a utility bag. Police arrested him at gunpoint. Good thing, too. Alvarez was carrying three stolen handguns in the bag.


At the time that Project Nova began, police were aware of several dozen homicides in the Lower Mainland which were unsolved and had biker connections. Many of those cases are still unsolved. Yes, you read that right - several dozen.


While the principals in the Nova investigation only received 4 1/2 years imprisonment, the case still marks the first substantial blow struck by local law enforcement against the insidiousness that is today's Hells Angels. It is also important to note that much more could have been done had the police had a bigger budget to fight with. It's a point lost on the regime of the former government.


Hopefully, it's a point which will not be lost on the new kids on the block.






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