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04/03/2013

Hells Angels: Darwin bans beer-drinking bikers

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(Photo courtesy CP/Le Journal de Montreal)

If you are a “bikie” as the Australians call their outlaw motorcycle riders, you can guzzle beer in Darwin or you can wear your gang uniform. But you can’t do both.

In advance of an expected invasion of 200 members of the Hells Angels for a raucous “convention” on Friday in the capital city of sprawling Northern Territory, politicians rushed through “an emergency directive” banning pubs from serving “bikies” wearing their “colours” -- the distinctive patches and emblems that identify a gang, NT News reports.

The ruling is set to expire on April 11, but NT News says that the state’s business minister has recommended a motion to the cabinet to make the biker beer ban permanent.

Much like in Canada, the Hells Angels down under have had a long-running and often bloody feud with their rivals such as the Bandidos – though some of the violent gangs in Australia have way cooler names like the “Finks” and the “Commancheros.”

Canada too has experimented with so-called patch bans.

Downtown Vancouver restaurants for some years have cooperated with law enforcement and signed private trespass agreements with the police that essentially forbid gang members from sporting their colours in their premises.

Saskatchewan also tried to enforce a gang patch ban but it faced court challenges as well.

Australia has witnessed a wave of biker violence that mirrors the bloody gang feuds in Canada which saw close to 200 bodies pile up in the streets of Montreal during the 1990s and to this day still leads to deadly shootouts in Vancouver.

The biker rivalry has grown so intense in Australia that at one maximum security prison in the state of Victoria, authorities had to segregate rival gang club members into separate wings – much like Quebec prisons have done for some years now to keep the warring biker factions apart.

At the Sydney airport in 2009, a “bikie” brawl led to one Hells Angels associate man being beaten to death with a metal pole by reputed members of the rival Commancheros as hundreds of shocked passengers looked on.            

In the wake of that attack and other gang reprisals, the state government of New South Wales drew up legalisation that would effectively ban biker gangs, allowing the police ask the courts to outlaw a motorcycle club a "criminal organization."

That law was overturned by Australia’s High Court in June 2011 after a Hells Angels member challenged it on the grounds that it curtailed individual liberties

But since then a patchwork of various anti-biker laws have been enacted by various states and according to The Australian newspaper, the federal government has also announced plans to enact new national anti-association laws.

So the Darwin patch ban fits into ongoing efforts in Australia to legally curb criminal biker activity and the flashy display of their gang affiliatons.

Canada has federal “criminal organization” legislation and on several organizations the Hells Angels and other groups have been named by the courts as criminal enterprises, though often these complicated cases collapse in the courts.

Contrary to a popular misconception, Canada’s anti-gang law does not ban or make membership in the Hells Angels illegal. Instead, the law requires prosecutors each time to prove the alleged criminal act was undertaken at the behest of or for the benefit of the criminal organization -- and if successful, heavier prison terms can be imposed on the guilty.

But for now at least, in most places in Canada, full-patch members of outlaw biker groups can still drink beer wearing their gang insignia.


Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative journalist at the Star and has co-written two books on biker gangs. He can reached at jsher@thestar.ca and on Twitter @juliansher

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Why don't they just grow up?

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