A Quebec journalist known for aggressive coverage of the Hells Angels and their bloody campaign for control of the Canadian drug trade was shot and wounded Wednesday outside the offices of the newspaper Journal de Montreal, where he worked.
Montreal police described the shooting as an "assassination attempt" but stressed that it remains unclear if 55-year-old Michel Auger was the victim of one of the biker hit squads that in recent years have carried out many killings and car bombings.
The ambush of Auger came only a day after Quebec's public security minister made a highly unusual appeal to the Canadian government to suspend certain constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties to give police in the province greater leeway in fighting the Hells Angels and their biker arch-rivals, the Rock Machine.
The attack also came a day after the Journal de Montreal published Augur's investigative piece on the battle between Quebec's biker gangs and its Mafia. Among other things, the story identified prominent warlords living anonymously in some of Montreal's most exclusive neighborhoods.
The journalist was shot in the back and shoulder by assailants in the parking lot of Journal de Montreal, the largest-circulation newspaper in the largely French-speaking province. He was able to call 911 on his cell phone to summon medical assistance. Auger was in stable condition under heavy police guard Wednesday night at Montreal General Hospital.
The newspaper has regularly assigned bodyguards to Auger, but he reportedly drove to work unaccompanied Wednesday.
Although he had received numerous death threats during more than two decades of covering organized crime, the targeting of Canadian journalists by gangsters is extremely rare.
"This is an outrage," said Journal editor in chief Paule Beaugrand-Champagne. "An attack against a journalist is an attack against the free flow of information. And that's an attack against the foundations of democracy."
A burning car was discovered a few blocks from the newspaper offices after the shooting. Torching getaway vehicles in order to destroy evidence is a trademark of Quebec biker gangs, but police refused to speculate beyond saying the car was probably used by Auger's assailants.
Auger has been the top crime columnist at the newspaper for the past 17 years, respected by both police and other journalists for his in-depth reports on organized crime, especially the biker gangs battling for control of drug trafficking, smuggling, prostitution, auto theft and other rackets worth tens of millions of dollars in Quebec province alone.