The Hells Angels biker associate who was married to Julie Couillard for nearly two years has emerged from a decade in hiding in the witness protection program to give a rare insider's portrait of the woman to whom he was married - and the dangerous criminal biker world of betrayal and suspicion she frequented.
In an exclusive interview, Stéphane Sirois gave his take on Ms. Couillard's life, and the details will only add to the questions now before Parliament about how she was able to become a partner of the now-disgraced former foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier.
Further, The Globe and Mail has learned that Ms. Couillard was known to the RCMP a full decade before she appeared in public with Mr. Bernier because they ordered a surveillance operation on her home in 1998 as part of a drug investigation, court papers show. This is the first evidence showing that Ms. Couillard was known to the RCMP, the force responsible for protecting cabinet ministers.
Opposition parties have been informed that officials from the RCMP will be the first witnesses to appear Tuesday when the public safety committee of the House launches its inquiry into Mr. Bernier's misplaced classified documents at Ms. Couillard's home.
Court documents also show that by 2004, Ms. Couillard wanted to be involved in politics. In a February, 2004, application to have her driver's licence reinstated, she said she was the president of a numbered company where she got to do promotional work "and see to the organization of special events such as volunteering for federal elections."
Last night, Radio-Canada reported that Ms. Couillard was seen in 2006 dining with Normand Descôteaux, a loan shark who was an associate of the criminal figures she knew in the 1990s.Jean-Claude Hébert, a prominent defence lawyer representing Ms. Couillard, declined comment to The Globe and Mail yesterday, saying he would wait to read what Mr. Sirois had to say.
Mr. Sirois, a police informant who lives in an unknown location under the auspices of the witness protection program, gave pointed, if tardy, advice to Mr. Bernier during a four-hour interview with The Globe and Mail at a prearranged neutral venue.
"Stay away from her."
Ms. Couillard has been at the centre of the sex and security scandal that has swirled around Ottawa - a scandal that forced Mr. Bernier to resign last month and will be the focus of parliamentary hearings next week.
"I came here to set the record straight," Mr. Sirois said. "I ain't no saint - but neither was she . . . She's attracted to people with money and power."
It is the first time Mr. Sirois has spoken since he testified in 2003 that Hell Angels leader Maurice (Mom) Boucher had considered having Ms. Couillard murdered because he suspected she had close ties to police.
Mr. Sirois is also the first of those close to Ms. Couillard to speak out - and few people were as intimate with her as he was. Of the five men she has been recently revealed to be associated with - a convicted Mafia gangster, a loan shark, a biker, a security consultant who trafficked in stolen goods and finally a former Tory cabinet minister - Mr. Sirois is the only one she married.
Now working as a self-described "successful businessman," Mr. Sirois - praised by police as one of their best undercover agents and trial witnesses - spoke in fluent English, occasionally slipping into Québécois joual to describe his crime years. Throughout the four-hour interview, he wore dark sunglasses and a baseball cap to hide his face and agreed to be photographed only in silhouette. The bikers have killed several informants in the past.
Details of his life with Ms. Couillard are difficult to verify, because she has so far given only two carefully scripted interviews to the Quebec media and has declined all further inquiries. But much of what Mr. Sirois says can be corroborated by court testimony, police wiretaps and his police handlers.
DIFFERENT KIND OF WOMAN
However, this is Mr. Sirois's version of events. To this day, Mr. Sirois says he remembers the first time he set eyes on a young Julie Couillard when she strolled into a bar in Montreal's north end on a Tuesday night, in the middle of 1997.
At the time, Mr. Sirois was a full-patch member of Rockers, a puppet club of the Hells Angels (HA) with a brutal reputation as enforcers and killers for the outlaw motorcycle gang.
"We're all partying. That club was known to be a biker hangout," he said. "Why did she go there if she didn't want to meet bikers?"
Mr. Sirois said they had drinks and danced. A couple of days later, they went to the Montreal casino together.
That weekend, Mr. Sirois - one of the few English-speaking bikers in Quebec - left for Vancouver to attend the anniversary of an HA-affiliated club.
"Julie knew I was going out for club business and she picked me up at the airport when I came back," Mr. Sirois said.
"She and I are getting close. I'm liking the girl - what's not to like? She's a different kind of woman," he said. "I was used to strippers, barmaids. She was more refined and elegant. She showed a different class."
But, according to Mr. Sirois, when Ms. Couillard told him she had previously dated Gilles Giguère - a loan shark tied up in murder plots who also had close ties to the Hells Angels - Mr. Sirois decided he had to check her out with Maurice "Mom" Boucher, the HA chieftain.
"I knew Giguère was really close to Mom," Mr. Sirois said.
Mr. Giguère was shot to death in a gangland slaying in April, 1996, just before he was to co-operate in his drug and weapons trial. He was with Ms. Couillard at their east-end home when he got a call to meet someone; he left and never returned - his bullet-ridden body later found in a roadside ditch. It was widely suspected bikers killed him, worried that he was a police informant.
And, according to Mr. Sirois, apparently they had the same concerns about Ms. Couillard. Far from being incidental to the biker world as Ms. Couillard has said, for at least a few years at the height of the bloody biker wars she appeared to be central to their concerns. Mr. Sirois said he had no less than four separate conversations with Mr. Boucher about Ms. Couillard's fate.
When Mr. Sirois first approached Mr. Boucher about his new girlfriend, he said the biker leader's face "just dropped." Mr. Boucher began firing questions - how did you meet, what did you talk about, what did she ask? "It was like an inquisition," Mr. Sirois recalled.
"What do you want me to do - dump her?" Mr. Sirois said he asked his biker boss.
"No, for the time being, keep her close," he said the Hells Angels leader ordered. "I'll get back to you on this."
It took only a few days for Mr. Boucher to get back to his underling. Mr. Sirois was summoned to Mr. Boucher's headquarters - a heavily fortified building on Bennett Avenue in Montreal's east end, down the street from the Gold's Gym favoured by the bikers.
Mr. Sirois said Mr. Boucher laid it out clearly: He and his close associate, the loan shark Robert (Bob) Savard, were "really nervous" about Ms. Couillard.
"They suspected that she had a part in Gilles turning. That she was a police informant and that she might do it again," Mr. Sirois said. "His alarm bells are going off. Now she's back in his circle."
The Hells Angels chieftain made a shooting gesture with his thumb raised and two fingers pointed in the shape of gun - a sign gangsters use for a targeted hit.
"I knew exactly what he meant - he had him killed, end of story," Mr. Sirois said. "He tells me when Gilles died, she almost bought it."
" Elle était pour y passer - she was supposed to be next," he recalled Mr. Boucher saying.
"He was really nervous, which made me freaking scared," Mr. Sirois said. "I didn't want to know about this but it was too late - he told me and now I am part of this secret."
A day or two later, Mr. Boucher summoned Mr. Sirois for their third meeting - this time at his comfortable suburban home in Contrecoeur.
"He officially tells me to dump her," Mr. Sirois said.
" Flush la," is the blunt way the Hells Angels boss put it.
Mr. Sirois left the meeting badly shaken. "I have to tread carefully. I have to leave the impression with Mom that it's all 'yes sir.' I have to make him feel good - but I have to keep her on a short leash. If she opens her mouth, I'm dead."
Caught between the woman he loved and the bikers he feared, Mr. Sirois says he hatched a plan that he thought would keep both Ms. Couillard and Mr. Boucher happy. He would marry Ms. Couillard and quit the bikers - something she had been pressing him to do - and in that way also remove the woman who was making everyone nervous.
"If I drop my patches, she thinks I did it for her. Mom thinks I did it for him. It made me look good on two fronts," he said.
Mr. Sirois announced his decision to the Hells Angels boss in the summer of 1997, about six weeks after he had first encountered Ms. Couillard. Mr. Sirois and Mr. Boucher met in an abandoned field off Notre Dame Street in Montreal, not far from a seedy strip bar restaurant featuring scantily clad waitresses that Mr. Boucher frequented.
The two men stood alone, a couple of Hells Angels "prospects" keeping watch from a distance. Mom had heard of the pending marriage and a frightened Mr. Sirois confirmed his plans.
" Ç a fait un crisse de frette entre toi puis moi," Mr. Boucher said in angry words Mr. Sirois says he will never forget, roughly translated as: "This puts a helluva cold front between us."
"Don't worry, she won't talk about anything, " Mr. Sirois says he tried to assure the gang leader.
But Mr. Sirois says Mom was not convinced: "What if she brings out things in the past and makes waves? What if she stirs up shit about Gilles?" he said, referring to the killing of her previous boyfriend, Mr. Giguère.
"It's not going to happen," Mr. Sirois said he answered.
"What if it does?" Mr. Boucher kept pushing, according to Mr. Sirois.
"I'll do what I have to do," he promised.
"It meant if we had to take her down, I would do it myself," Mr. Sirois explained. "It was never my intention, but Mom Boucher had to think it was."
The gambit seemed to work. "Okay - this is between me and you, you never tell anyone," Mr. Boucher insisted.
Mr. Sirois found himself in a tight spot. The most powerful underworld crime figure in Quebec at the time had sworn him to secrecy about the fact that the Angels had killed Mr. Giguère and were considering killing Ms. Couillard as well.
"He told me everything was going to be okay if I held my part of the bargain, but I don't know if he was going to keep his word."
Mr. Sirois dutifully turned in his biker patches - his vest with the Rocker club emblems - and handed over his drug business to others. He hoped to make a clean break.
"I believed my own hype," Mr. Sirois said. "I believed I could make it without my patches and sleep at night unafraid and be with a beautiful woman who loves me."
But it did not take long for his plans to unravel.
BIKERS SHUN WEDDING
Mr. Sirois says he invited many of his biker friends to his wedding to Ms. Couillard, but Mr. Boucher told them to stay away.
Instead, on the way to his wedding, Mr. Sirois got a call from his former Rocker buddies informing him that he owed them $5,000 in unpaid drug debts. Mr. Sirois disputed that.
"I was pissed," he said. "These guys are calling me on my wedding day! I was ready to take a bullet for them."
Mr. Sirois says he took his " boîte à lunch" - an expression the bikers used with disdain to explain going back to the straight lunch-bucket life - "but nothing worked."
"Clean businessmen that I knew wanted nothing to do with me because of my biker days and my biker friends shunned me," he said. He could not collect from people who owed him money with his usual enforcement tactics because he had promised Mr. Boucher he would not make waves.
"Things went downhill from there," he said, as he spiralled into a depression fuelled by liquor and drugs. He attempted suicide and was later hospitalized; Ms. Couillard would eventually file for divorce.
It was about this time that Mr. Sirois confided in his wife about the Hells Angels suspicions of her ties to the police. "I spilled the beans. Now I tell her everything - my meeting with Mom, his threats against her."
"If I didn't marry you, you'd be dead," he told her.
But, according to Mr. Sirois, Ms. Couillard apparently did not believe him. He says she told him she went to meet personally with Bob Savard, a bold tactic that, if Mr. Sirois's memory is correct, speaks volumes to her street-smart grit. Mr. Savard, after all, had a fearsome reputation as a loan shark tightly associated with Mr. Boucher.
(Mr. Savard was later gunned down in a restaurant. His breakfast companion survived the assault - he was fellow loan shark Mr. Descôteaux, the same man Ms. Couillard is now reported to have met as recently as 2006.)
Ms. Couillard told her husband she had been assured there was nothing to worry about - "Savard and Mom think highly me," she said, according to Mr. Sirois - but he said these alleged indiscretions threw him into a panic.
He says he feared Mr. Savard would quickly report to Mr. Boucher that Mr. Sirois had betrayed his confidence and had told his wife.
"In my eyes, I'm fucked," Mr. Sirois said. "This is going to get back to Mom. I've got days to live. I did this to save her life - and now she's going to end mine."
Mr. Sirois says he returned to the house he had once shared with Ms. Couillard to retrieve a .38-calibre gun he had buried in the backyard. Through the patio window, he says he saw his wife with a man he recognized as a low-level drug dealer associated with the Hells Angels. He looked at his gun, he says, "and for the first time I thought of doing the unthinkable."
Instead, Mr. Sirois did something almost as unthinkable - he decided to switch sides and work for the police. He had rebuffed the police once already when they first approached him shortly after he left the Rockers, but now he figured working as an informant was his best - and only - chance of staying alive.
It was not hard to ingratiate himself with his old crime associates, given his solid track record with them of violence and drug-dealing in the past. He rejoined the Rockers, gathering some of the most damning evidence against the Hells Angels' Nomad chapter they served, run by Mr. Boucher.
But while he worked diligently for the police against his former biker partners, Mr. Sirois is adamant that his former wife never did.
"I want it on the record that I am sure that she has never been an informant - but I am sure everyone else thought she was," Mr. Sirois said. "It doesn't matter whether or not she was an informant. The point is Mom and his gang thought she was - and that was the danger."
Mr. Sirois took belated comfort from revelations in last week's Globe that, according to sources, Mr. Boucher to this day still harbours fears that Ms. Couillard may have had dealings with the police.
"It proves the fact that everything I told her was the truth: Had it not been for me, she'd be dead. I want people that called me 'rat' to know that's why I made the choice I did - to save her and me."
He can only speculate why Mr. Boucher never followed through on his threat to kill Ms. Couillard. "I guess it wasn't worth it any more," he said, noting that the heat over Mr. Giguère's assassination eventually died down and she had largely kept quiet during her subsequent marriage to Mr. Sirois. "Maurice Boucher had bigger fish to fry than to worry about Julie.
"She faded away."
SYMPATHY FOR BERNIER
When Ms. Couillard came roaring back into the limelight last month, Mr. Sirois said he could only chuckle.
Mr. Sirois says Ms. Couillard once confided in him about the best way to win a fight with someone. "Act confidently and bark louder," she told him. "Because the one who barks louder looks like the person who is telling the truth.
"She has that touch - she's articulate and polite. She's an actress," he said. She also has a rumoured book deal in the works, something that Mr. Sirois would also like.
He rattled off the list of men associated with Ms. Couillard: Mr. Giguère killed in a gangland slaying; Mr. Sirois himself forced into witness protection; small-time criminal Robert Pepin, with whom Ms. Couillard was associated in 2004, committed suicide; and now Mr. Bernier, forced from federal cabinet in disgrace.
"And those are just the ones we know of," Mr. Sirois said.
For her part, Ms. Couillard has said little on the record about her married life with Mr. Sirois. "What Stéphane Sirois said about me [previously] as far as I'm concerned, has no credibility," she told The Globe in a brief phone interview last month.
"Everything I said has been corroborated by the police," Mr. Sirois said, referring to his trial testimony. "The judge believed me, the police believe me. My story is still the same as it was - you tell the truth, the story doesn't change."
It's unusual for a former criminal biker to hand out words of solace and comfort to a former federal cabinet minister. But then it's unusual that two men from such divergent backgrounds would share a stormy relationship with the same woman, Ms. Couillard.
From his secure hiding spot under witness protection, Mr. Sirois said he watched Mr. Bernier's fall from grace with sadness - and a smile.
"She's a powerful woman. She gets into your head. She's attracted to people with money and power. She complains Bernier didn't stand up for her. Look what happened to me when I had the balls to defend her - look where I am now.
"I felt sympathy for him," the former biker said of the former minister.
"But I was glad too. I'm not the only dumb one, it seems."
Special to The Globe and Mail. Julian Sher is a freelance investigative reporter based in Montreal and the co-author of two books on criminal biker gangs. With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and Ingrid Peritz
FROM LIFE OF CRIME TO POLICE INFORMANT
"I've got the money, the power, the girls - it was a hell of life. It was a rock-star life."
Stéphane Sirois relished his days as a drug dealer and enforcer for the Rockers motorcycle gang - but his tumble from the top was as quick as his rise inside Montreal's criminal biker underworld.
"It's a spinning wheel - the more you get into it, it starts spinning faster and faster and then you can't get out because then you know too many secrets about too many people," he said.
As the thugs for Mom Boucher's Hells Angels, the Rockers were known to have a "baseball team" (for beating people up) and a "football team" (for killing people). Mr. Sirois openly confesses to participating in a beating of two people at the Rockers' clubhouse that was so vicious one of the victims convulsed and had to be brought back to life with a water hose.
"It's like a pack of wolves. One wolf attacks and you have to follow," he said. "It's been many years and I still have nightmares about a lot of those things."
But he makes no apologies for his life of crime: "There's nobody else to blame but me - I made a choice. I contributed to every murder that was done by the HA [Hells Angels]and the Rockers. I might not have shot the person but in a little way I helped. We all knew what was going on."
Once he was forced by betrayals and suspicions in June, 1999, to start working as an informant for the police, he applied the same drive to helping the cops.
"He had guts," one of his police handlers told The Globe and Mail. "He wanted to push things and he was a good witness."
For several months he wore a body pack, recording drug deals and biker plots. He was reportedly paid more than $400,000 to testify in Quebec's famous biker megatrials, which sent dozens of criminals to jail.
In the witness box, Mr. Sirois impressed journalists covering the trial with what media accounts called the "surgical precision" of his testimony, often relying on detailed notes he had taken during his undercover work. "More a cop than the cops," one of them wrote.
Unlike other informants who squirmed under the gaze of the biker defendants they had betrayed, Mr. Sirois stared them down.
"I wasn't going to shy away from what I was doing and act ashamed," he said. "I made a choice and stood by it."
One accused biker ran his finger along his neck to indicate Mr. Sirois's days were numbered. Mr. Sirois admits he still looks over his shoulder and takes extreme security precautions.
"I might end up in a ditch some day, but I did what I had to do," he said. "If my actions saved one life, call it redemption or whatever you want."
Of two of his closest friends, André Chouinard got 22 years and Jean-Guy Bourgoin got 15 years.
His former biker buddies might condemn him as a cowardly rat, but that doesn't bother Mr. Sirois: "At least I'm a live rat," he said with a laugh. Julian Sher