Pubdate: Tue, 16 Jan 2001
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2001 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: Alexander Panetta


QUEBEC (CP) - Huddled in what looked like the world's largest penalty box, 
a group of suspected criminal bikers sat handcuffed behind a Plexiglas cage 
Tuesday while their lawyers launched an assault on federal anti-gang 
legislation. The tightly guarded courtroom is the setting for a landmark 
case involving 13 suspected members of the Hells Angels and a puppet 
criminal biker gang.

The defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 162 charges including 
drug-trafficking, kidnapping, assault and confinement.

The accused are also among the first Quebecers charged under provisions of 
a 1997 federal anti-gang law.

Sporting poker faces, casual clothes and - in most cases - long hair or 
thick moustaches, the defendants watched calmly Tuesday as defence lawyer 
Louis Belleau argued that the federal law is unconstitutional.

An unrelated trial for eight biker-gang members in Montreal has already 
been postponed while defence lawyers wait to see what constitutional 
arguments emerge from the Quebec City hearings.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Claude Beaulieu ordered a publication 
ban on details of the proceeding until a jury is selected next month.

The federal law carries a maximum 14-year sentence for people involved in a 
criminal organization. It was created to stem the bloody drug war between 
the Hells Angels and Rock Machine that has claimed about 150 lives in 
Quebec over six years.

About $10,000 has been spent on exceptional security measures for the 
trial, expected to begin next month.

Six of the accused were led into the courtroom in handcuffs and seated 
behind the two-and-a-half metre cage, made of the same Plexiglas material 
used to line penalty boxes and protect spectators at hockey rinks.

The other seven defendants, free on bail, sat in a separate prisoner's dock.

"This is the first time we've used something like this at the Quebec City 
courthouse," said Capt. Pierre Gauvreau, a court security official.

He wouldn't elaborate on the precautions.

"You'll see things here and you can judge for yourself what security 
measures we've taken.

"I don't care to discuss it."

When the trial begins next month, visitors will be banned from the 
courtroom and forced to watch the proceedings outside on a giant-screen TV.

However, spectators were allowed to attend Tuesday's preliminary hearing 
after undergoing two security checks while entering the courtroom.

Spectators were searched and reporters were asked to provide business cards 
before being allowed inside.

The witness stand has been shifted away from the prisoner areas to 
eliminate the possibility of intimidating gestures or glances at witnesses 
during testimony.

Of the 13 defendants - men with nicknames like Pyramid, Baptist, Pops and 
The Tall - two are alleged members of the Hells Angels while 11 are said to 
belong to the affiliate Blatnois gang.

About 350 potential jurors have been summoned to attend a selection hearing 
Feb. 19.

Exceptional measures will be taken to hide the identity and whereabouts of 

Up to 186 witnesses are slated to testify at the trial, which is expected 
to last between three and five months.

Tuesday's hearing was delayed an hour when jail guards, seeking a new 
collective agreement, stalled before transferring some of the defendants 
from neighbouring Orsainville prison.

Police pressed their attacks on bikers on other fronts early Tuesday, 
raiding several hangouts of the Hells Angels and Evil Ones gangs, including 
the Hells bunker in Lennoxville, Que.

Ten people were arrested on drug and weapons charges.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens