Kim Bolan-The Province
Angel and two associates convicted of several offences in B.C. Supreme Court trial
For more than a dozen years, Hope resident Richard Houle grew cannabis illegally for an Edmonton Hells Angel, Neil Cantrill.
When Houle told Cantrill at a meeting in December 2014 that he wanted to get out of the business, he didn’t think there would be any problem.
But a year and a half later, on Aug. 1, 2016, Houle was grabbed by Cantrill, Cantrill’s son Stephan and Cantrill’s associate Robert Lowry. Houle was brutally beaten and told he would have to sign his house over to his former business partner.
All three men were convicted last month in B.C. Supreme Court of aggravated assault, kidnapping, extortion, forcible confinement and overcoming resistance.
Their sentencing is scheduled for December.
Justice Ward Branch said Houle — despite his admitted involvement in the drug trade — was a credible witness at the trial.
And the judge noted that much of what Houle said was bolstered by other evidence — his blood was found on Lowry’s jeans and inside an SUV where he said the attack took place. And police testified about finding more blood on a roadside stump near where Houle agreed to meet Neil Cantrill that day.
Cantrill has a lengthy association with the Hells Angels. He was once a member of the Alberta Nomads chapter but more recently has joined the Edmonton-based Westridge chapter of the Hells Angels. The link to the notorious biker gang is not mentioned in Branch’s 34-page written judgement released on July 31.
Houle testified that he first agreed to run grow operations for Neil Cantrill in 2001 or 2002.
“Houle would arrange for product to be delivered to Edmonton, where (Cantrill) resided, and (Cantrill) would take over distribution from that point forward,” the ruling said. “The product from several different grow-op properties controlled by Houle and his partners was distributed in this manner.”
Houle said he made between $60,000 and $100,000 annually, but didn’t file tax returns. And he said he owned one of his grow properties on Johnson Road in Hope through a nominee.
Over the years, “there were no major difficulties in his business relationship” with Cantrill he said, though Houle suffered “certain police seizures or third-party thefts at his properties.”
He travelled to Edmonton to meet Cantrill on Dec. 28, 2014 to tell him “their business relationship would be coming to an end.”
He also told Cantrill he could have the growing equipment if he wanted it.
“Houle does not recall (Cantrill) raising any concerns about this change in their relationship,” Branch said.
Nineteen months later, Houle found a note on his Johnson Road fence on July 31, 2016.
“This is Neil — I really need some information on something we talked about Call me pls. … My son and I are in town for a bit.”
Houle thought Cantrill wanted the growing equipment. He made the call and they agreed to meet the following day at a roadside pull out near Hope.
There Neil Cantrill grabbed Houle by the throat and said `So you think you can rip me off!’
Houle rotated to the right and was hit in the face by Lowry. He tried to escape, but Lowry “jumped on his back, putting his arm around his throat. He could not breathe,” Branch wrote. “He was straining so hard that he soiled himself, and almost lost consciousness.”
Houle was put in the back of the SUV where he was struck repeatedly, bleeding profusely.
The assailants accused Houle of orchestrating one of the grow-rips himself and said they heard he had a million dollars buried somewhere.
“Houle denied this, but said he had $5,000 he could give them,” the ruling said.
“They told Houle that he was going to have to sign Johnson Road over to them. Houle says he agreed to do what they asked because he was in fear for his life.”
They all headed to his property. Police later showed up, arresting the Alberta trio and taking Houle to the hospital.
He was interviewed by police the following day and asked to be placed in the Witness Protection Program.