07/13/2011 10:02 EDT | Updated 09/12/2011 05:12 EDT

Winnipeg Biker Gang War Escalates As Firebombings, Shootings Put People At Risk


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- WINNIPEG - Winnipeg police say they are cracking down on an escalating outlaw motorcycle gang turf war after a rash of firebombings and shootings.

Police say rival biker gangs are attempting to corner the Winnipeg drug trade and they worry there will be more innocent victims after a 14-year-old boy was injured recently in the crossfire.

"It's about drugs, it's about illegal activity," Const. Jason Michalyshen said Wednesday.

"They are trying to get a foothold on our communities and our city for the sale of those drugs. They are doing everything in their power to intimidate one another."

Police know of seven attempted firebombings in the last few weeks -- five in the last four days -- including a tattoo parlour that was hit early Tuesday morning. Five other homes and businesses have been riddled with bullets.

Some people have been arrested on lesser charges and two people are in custody for the most recent attempted firebombing, Michalyshen said.

"We are concerned that these incidents are occurring," he said. "We have homes that are being targeted. We have shootings where houses are being struck by numerous bullets ... When we have firearms being discharged in our community, it's putting a lot of people at risk."

Michalyshen wouldn't name the gangs involved, but the conflict is said to involve affiliates of the Rock Machine and the Hells Angels.

Previous crackdowns and mass arrests of gang members in recent years have created a "void" in the city, he said. Police are beefing up resources to quell the violence, even if it means bringing people into custody for minor infractions, he added.

"Despite this violence, we are working hard," Michalyshen said. "We are monitoring these individuals extremely carefully and if we are in a position to make an arrest, as minor as it might be, we will move forward."

Attorney General Andrew Swan said the province is doing whatever it can to make Manitoba a hostile environment for biker gangs. The NDP has made it possible for the province to seize the homes and cars bought from the proceeds of organized crime, he said.

"It is a constant fight in Manitoba, as it is in other provinces, to take on organized crime and make sure that crime does not pay," he said. "It's a concern when events like this are happening. People are entitled to be safe in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their businesses and in their communities."

In 2009, police agencies from Manitoba and British Columbia made sweeping arrests following drug-related raids in Winnipeg and elsewhere in the province, including a Hells Angels clubhouse. Some 31 people were arrested as part of the long-term investigation into organized crime called Project Divide.

Those convicted in the sweep now face a total of 160 years in jail, Swan said.

"We've taken all the measures we can do to try to deal with organized crime," he said. "But we know there is always more to do."

With an election looming in October, the Progressive Conservative opposition is expected to make crime and gang violence a ballot box issue. Leader Hugh McFadyen said it's a blight on the NDP record that Winnipeg is still the violent crime capital of Canada.

But he stopped short of saying what specifically the NDP could have done to prevent such turf wars.

"The results speak to the failure," McFadyen said.

Although some are sounding the alarm again about escalating organized crime, not everyone has noticed a change.

David Moxley, who owns a business in the same building as the tattoo parlour that was vandalized Tuesday, said the area is home to several raucous bars, so some overnight violence is not unheard of.

"There's a few nasty people doing some nasty things," he said. "There's a small element of people intent on doing things that cause trouble."