It's official -- the Hells Angels are a bona fide criminal organization in Manitoba.
The designation of the Hells under the province's schedule of criminal organizations, announced Friday by Justice Minister Andrew Swan, makes Manitoba the first North American jurisdiction to deem the biker gang a criminal outfit.
While welcomed by law enforcement, the designation only affects prosecutions against gang members under provincial laws, not federal laws against guns, drugs and violent crimes.
Swan said it means Crown attorneys will not need to call expert witnesses to prove in each case the Hells Angels are a criminal organization when gang members and associates are being prosecuted under a provincial law.
Those laws include the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, the Fortified Buildings Act and the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act, which is being used to seize the Hells Angels clubhouse on Scotia Street. That matter remains before the courts.
Swan said the hope is Ottawa follows suit, meaning a federal designation will let the Crown prosecute gang members on Criminal Code and drug offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act -- offences with which gang members are commonly charged and result in prison time.
"I believe they are interested," Swan said of Ottawa. "I expect they are trying to find the right way to go about doing that in a way that can be upheld in court."
While relatively quieter than in past years, the Hells Angels remain a central force in the province's criminal underworld, Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Rick Guyader said.
Illicit drug sales, drug production and extortion are some offences the gang routinely practises, he said.
"We've had successful prosecutions against the Hells Angels, but that doesn't seem to stop them," Guyader said. "They just get right back into business."
Swan said the biker club was given a chance to oppose the application, but didn't raise a peep.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Brosseau said any legislative change that helps law enforcement fight organized crime, and streamlines prosecutions is welcome.