One of Quebec's most experienced crime reporters is expected to survive after being shot five times the day after his analysis of recent mob killings was published.
The ambush left veteran crime writers wondering whether Michel Auger paid a price for being too detailed in writing about organized crime or whether the attack was an attempt to prevent him from writing something.
Mr. Auger, 55, was shot yesterday morning in the parking lot of his paper, le Journal de Montréal, the day after it ran a story in which he reviewed recent killings and disappearances.
The story said that some of the incidents were part of an internal purge within the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. Some in the criminal world had long grumbled that Mr. Auger's articles went too far, said Bernard Tétrault, editor-in-chief of the crime tabloid Allô Police.
"They were saying, 'Him, one of these days, one of these days . . .,' " Mr. Tétrault said. "He was making links, connecting things. There was a line that couldn't be crossed."
The shooting was typical of mob hits; the getaway car, with a pistol inside, was ditched a few blocks away after the attacker or attackers tried to torch it, Pierre Sangollo, a former high-ranking Montreal police commander who knows Mr. Auger, said. "They were sending a message. . . . They were saying that no one should talk about them and put their names and photos in the papers."
Yves Lavigne, author of Hells Angels at War and other books on motorcycle gangs, urged caution before blaming bikers, noting that the Quebec Hells Angels and their chieftain, Maurice (Mom) Boucher, are in the midst of a public-relations campaign and even invited a reporter to a biker wedding last month.
"The last thing they want is to upset the public. If the bikers shot Michel Auger, he must have known something very sensitive about them," Mr. Lavigne said. "He may have been shot not for what he wrote but for what he was going to write."
He added that the Hells Angels tend to use legal means when dealing with reporters. Unhappy about a story Mr. Auger did in 1995, the Angels had a lawyer complain successfully to the Quebec Press Council.
Associates of Mr. Auger say that he had received threats in recent weeks and was working mostly from home, Mr. Lavigne said.
"He was one of the few journalists who looked at the activities of the underworld with such focus. He reported on their activities with more details and more information and they didn't like that," Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, Speaker of the Quebec National Assembly, said. (A former colleague of Mr. Auger, Mr. Charbonneau was writing about the mob for Le Devoir when a gunman walked into the newsroom in 1973 and shot at him.)
What isn't clear, Mr. Sangollo said, is whether the shooting was condoned by a crime boss or was the work of low-ranking wannabes trying to impress their superiors.
The fact that the assailants knew when Mr. Auger would arrive at the newsroom could indicate that the shooting had been planned for some time, Mr. Lavigne said.
Mr. Auger has received many threats in a 30-year career.
A co-worker, reporter Jean-Maurice Duddin, said Mr. Auger was hit five times but managed to call 911 from his cellular phone.
Inside the newsroom, Mr. Auger's desk was cordoned off with yellow police tape.