(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 31, 2001)

 

Convictions say Angels not bigger than society

By Leo Knight

THE significance of last week's convictions, in B.C. Supreme Court, of two senior members of the Hells Angels was virtually lost on most of the mainstream media.  

 

With the exception of The Province, which featured the story on the front page, the remainder of the print and broadcast media either ignored the story or played it far down in the news coverage.  

 

That is, until a couple of Neanderthals allegedly threatened junior prosecutor Ernie Froess in the food court of Pacific Centre Mall.  

 

In fact, The Province's front page played a prominent role in the threatening of Froess. The two thugs brandished the newspaper, pointing at the headline "Hells Angels convicted for the first time" as they tried to intimidate Froess.  

 

Now, quite apart from being incredibly stupid, this act by the bikers forced all of the media to have a serious look at this case. And that is what experienced gangsters don't want.  

 

Witness the shooting of Montreal crime reporter Michel Auger. He covered the ongoing underworld war for control of the drug trade extensively. A couple of biker wannabes, trying to curry favour with the big boys, botched the execution in the parking lot where he worked.  

 

The singular act of incredible stupidity galvanized this nation in its revulsion. All political parties spoke out against the crime and the gangsters responsible, demanding such things as the suspension of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a crackdown on the bikers.  

 

And that's bad for business. The gang leaders know this and that is why there is reason to believe those who perpetrated the outrage on Auger have themselves been executed for their folly.  

 

The Hells Angels in particular, and outlaw biker gangs in general, don't believe in the rules of society. They call themselves "one per centers" -- representing the one percent of society who will not conform to civilized laws and mores.  

 

Fine and dandy, to a point. But over the years they changed from beer guzzling bullies on bikes to one of the most sophisticated organized crime groups in the world. And that's where society has to draw the line.  

 

The cornerstones of democracy include a free press and an independent justice system. An attack on either is an attack on society itself. To a large degree that is what is inherently wrong with the Angels. They have seemingly decided they are bigger than society itself.  

 

The story of the convictions last week was the message that, in Vancouver, this is not the case. At least, that was what should have been the message. But, for some reason, much of the media missed it entirely.  

 

Those who did report on the convictions didn't get it right, falling prey to the misinformation and spin provided by defence counsel Ken Westlake.  

 

After the verdict was announced, Westlake pooh-poohed the case, saying the jury was obviously split because they didn't convict on all five charges. Huh?  

 

Then Westlake topped that logic-defying bit of drivel when he said that this case was all about a $7,800 coke deal. Well, whatever, Ken.  

 

The truth of the matter is, needless to say, considerably different. Yes, there was testimony of an agent involved in purchasing $7,800 worth of cocaine, but the case involved a significant criminal conspiracy captured on hundreds of hours of wiretaps and countless more hours of physical surveillance.  

 

It is interesting that Westlake tried to make light of the work the police had done. Originally scheduled for five weeks, the trial dragged out over five months because of more defence motions than Carter has little liver pills. You name it and Westlake tried it.  

 

Including, I might add, trying to get yours truly subpoenaed to try and make a mistrial motion out of something I had written six months ago. A minor throwaway reference in a column about something totally unrelated. That, like much of the rest of the smokescreen, was tossed.  

 

Not that I have a problem with what Westlake did in conducting the defence. That's his job. But we might do well to remember that it is Ernie Froess' job to prosecute. And Westlake, as counsel to the Hells Angels, should help his clients understand that.  

 

During the trial, the defence tried to paint the police as "junior officers", trying to infer they didn't know what they were doing. Well, the police did a flawless job as evidenced by the admission of all the wiretap evidence and the subsequent convictions.  

 

Yet, a compliant media swallowed all the spin without question. It led to the usual letters to the editor in various publications complaining about the police wasting all that time and money for a small drug arrest.  

 

Then there were the letters of complaint saying this was all a waste for a mere two years in prison. Again, one has to question the media.  

 

Prosecutor Peter Hogg was asked what the Crown would be seeking in the sentencing hearing. Hogg would not tip his hand, only saying he would be seeking "federal time." The reporter explained that meant a sentence of two years or more. And that is quite true. But, it really means anything from two years to life, and all stops in between.  

 

But somehow that simple response became a carved-in-stone two years. Well that's just simply not true. Hogg will ask for serious time. He likely will be more than a little disappointed if two years is all these guys see. And so he should be.  

 

And so too, should you.

 

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