Outlaw biker gangs and their merchandise are no longer welcome at Friday the 13th motorcycle rallies in Port Dover.
Norfolk council approved a ban on vendor’s permits for motorcycle clubs with a criminal history Tuesday night.
This means Hells Angels are no longer able to sell hats, T-shirts and other items in Port Dover promoting “the Big Red Machine.”
Council acted after an extensive in-camera consultation with senior OPP officials.
Police shared a long list of concerns Tuesday about the evolution of Friday the 13th and its implications for public safety.
A presentation to council ended with Insp. Joe Varga, head of the Norfolk OPP, asking council to consider moving the rally to private property with a private security detail.
The primary concern is gang rivalries flaring up in the crowded core of Port Dover.
An OPP tactical unit was stationed beside the Hells Angels display on Main Street during the well-attended rally last July.
Police confirmed this week they had received reports of a possible incident occurring in Port Dover involving the Hells Angels and a rival gang. Nothing happened but police aren’t sure how long they can keep the peace.
“Tensions are rising between motorcycle gangs,” Varga said after council voted. “These tensions are spilling over to the Friday the 13th event.”
Varga shared a number of other concerns with council.
In the name of tourism, Varga said the county has promoted Friday the 13th “to the point that the event has become dangerous in regards to public safety.”
Friday the 13th had humble beginnings in 1981 as a one-night party at the former Commercial Hotel. Varga said it has since sprawled into a three- or four-day event requiring hundreds of police officers.
He noted that the front-line complement at the Norfolk detachment totals 96 officers.
Meanwhile – at last July’s event – a total of 450 officers were required from across Ontario. Nearly 200,000 people were in Port Dover July 13 along with more than 15,000 motorcycles.
“The actions of Norfolk County over the years have sanctioned the growth of the event and have attracted known criminal organizations such as the Hells Angels,” Varga said.
“By promoting the event and attracting these criminal organizations, Norfolk County has increased the risk to an unacceptable level to both attendees and county residents, as evidenced by documented events which took place at the July 13 event.
“Norfolk County sells vendor permits for street booths to allow vendors to sell goods and earns income from these sales. The fact some of these vendors are known criminal organizations – Hells Angels – means Norfolk County is essentially supporting these criminal organizations and enabling them to fund criminal activity.”
Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus, chair of Tuesday’s meeting, is also a member of Norfolk’s Police Services Board. He told council the OPP’s concerns are not new. Columbus said the PSB has frequently discussed the criminal element in association with Friday the 13th.
“They are very concerned about public safety and liability to Norfolk County and its taxpayers,” Columbus said.
Varga also told council that the presence of motorcycles on congested streets is a disaster waiting to happen. He said police, fire officials and paramedics agree the lack of access and egress due to the huge crowds is a serious threat to public safety.
“Norfolk County is putting these police officers, general public and the motoring public at physical risk by continuing to promote an event that is essentially causing traffic chaos,” Varga said.
“At a very minimum, the OPP would like to see the event moved onto a private-property venue and utilize licensed private security for some duties and paid-duty officers for required policing duties.”
Council acknowledges the OPP’s concerns. But Mayor Kristal Chopp wonders how exactly the county would prevent motorcycle riders from showing up in downtown Port Dover on Friday the 13th.
“As to Mr. Varga’s suggestion, it has merit but I don’t believe there is any way to stop enthusiasts from coming to Port Dover at this point,” Chopp said Wednesday in an email. “It’s a non-starter for this year. They are coming whether we like it or not and we need to be ready.
“That said, we will certainly take the suggestion under advisement and the PSB and council will meet to discuss public safety and other issues for future events.”
The next rally in September has the potential to be as large as the rally last July. If the weather is good, demand for a run to Port Dover will be high due to the 14-month interval between events.