“I think this is an opportunity for India to show to Canada that they are willing to cooperate with Canada. If the law enforcement agencies there offer their full cooperation it would be an excellent way to show that the two democracies can work in a collaborative fashion. “…. (Patrick Brown, Mayor, Peel Region)
South Asian community in Canada: Beginning of January, a staggering $9 million worth of property went up in flames in the Edmonton area of Alberta, sparking concerns and attributions of the criminal activity to individuals from India. The surge in extortion cases is particularly alarming within the South Asian community in Canada.
Unverified reports suggest that these extortion cases within the community began around October in the previous year. Many incidents went unreported as victims quietly succumbed to threats and opted to pay up instead of involving law enforcement.
Originating in British Columbia, the criminal activity has now spread to Ontario and, most recently, Alberta. British Columbia alone has witnessed approximately 30 reported cases, while the Ontario region has reported around 20. Edmonton police are currently investigating at least 27 incidents involving ongoing extortion, arson, and firearms within the South Asian community.
Modus Operandi of extortion
The Edmonton Police have made six arrests on charges of arson and firearms-related offences. A drive-by shooting at a residence in northeast Edmonton on January 10 added to the escalating situation. During a press conference, Sgt. Dave Paton of the Edmonton Police Service confirmed that extortion threats are being communicated via WhatsApp groups. “Typically, our victims receive WhatsApp communication, and then from there, there’s a request that comes along with that for compensation to allow those victims to remain safe,” he stated. Paton also acknowledged that one of the suspects has fled the country. Although specific details regarding the amount of money being extorted were not disclosed, he affirmed that the sums involved are “significant.”
Extortion in Canada linked to India
Police agencies in British Columbia and Ontario have established links between violent activities against the South Asian community and the extortion demands. Incidents such as a targeted shooting at a strip mall in Surrey and a looted jewellery store have created widespread panic and fear within the community.
Last month, ANM reported shots fired at the house of a relative of the President of Laxmi Narain Temple in Surrey, with no updates on the case thus far. Satish Goel, the temple president, expressed his ongoing communication with the police agencies, emphasising the lack of progress in the investigation.
In 2023, Global News cited an internal Abbotsford Police memo suggesting possible links between the suspects and the Lawrence Bishnoi Gang. Currently in custody at Tihar jail in Delhi, Bishnoi is known to operate criminal activities from there and claimed responsibility for the killing of Sidhu Moose Wala in May 2022. At a time when India-Canada relations are strained, the resolution of these issues will be closely monitored to allay fears within the South Asian community.
In response to the escalating situation, city mayors have appealed to the federal government to formulate a multi-jurisdictional strategy to combat the cross-border extortion menace.
Peel Region Mayor Patrick Brown addressed questions raised by the South Asian community, emphasising the need for coordinated efforts between the two countries, to address the growing threat.
What evidence do you have that these extortion cases are being orchestrated from India. Do you know how are these letters delivered?
That’s what the police agencies in the Lower Mainland, in Edmonton and in the Peel region of Ontario have found in their investigations. At this point they have not released names and I cannot reveal how the threats were delivered. But mostly these threats are being delivered over Whatsapp groups.
Are you aware of total number of cases as of now?
I believe as of now there are over 20 cases in the Peel Region and over 20 in Edmonton and over 30 in the Lower Mainland. I believe they started in BC (British Columbia) first, sometimes-late last year but I cannot be specific. But we are certain there are unreported cases where people have already paid extortion and too terrified to go to police.
Which was the first city to be targeted and when?
As far as I know they started in BC first, then spilled over to Peel in the Brampton and now in Edmonton.
Are these the only who are being builders targeted?
Targets are not limited to builders. There are multitudes of people who are being targeted across the board, not only successful businessmen or builders. The latest incident happened in Edmonton where new houses being constructed by developers, were torched. Demands can vary from a few hundred thousand dollars to millions of dollars. We are seeing small businessmen, middle class families, community members in multitude of professions, not only just the rich ones. There are a variety of extortion events. This has been happening since late 2023 and we are now in 2024.
Have such threats been received in any other community?
So far, we know it is only the South Asian Community.
With India Canada relations at a low point, do you think the federal government will be able to work with the Indian government to resolve this issue?
I think this is an opportunity for India to show to Canada that they are willing to cooperate with Canada. If the law enforcement agencies there offer their full cooperation it would be an excellent way to show that the two democracies can work in a collaborative fashion.
It cannot be ignored that the acts of violence are committed by people in Canada and on Canadian soil. Isn’t it Canadian government’s responsibility to protect Canadian citizens?
We have been able to apprehend some people who have been committing acts here in Canada but those are the very low-level criminals. The person starting a fire or a person shooting at a home, tends to be someone struggling with addiction for example and he has been offered payment but the individuals who are coordinating this are not the low-level criminals here. They are outside of Canada. So, we are apprehending those people here for example they are extorting someone a million dollars and they a low-level criminal but may charge 5000 dollars to fire a shot or start a fire. We can apprehend the person who has fired the short and law enforcement agencies are doing that. But we need to stop this activity and to do that we need to apprehend international criminal gang which is orchestrating all this.
With Canadian citizens now being targeted by groups or individuals, against whom Indian government has always warned Canada, isn’t it high time that Canada take action against these elements?
That would be an assumption that the police have not made any attempt. My understanding is that individual is in jail in India and claimed responsibility for a large number of crimes everywhere. But it would be premature in investigation and that is not a conclusion that our agencies have come to.
How long do you think this investigation will go on? Community members need to feel safe in Canada.
I think it depends on the response from India side. As far as I know that Canadian investigation has reached a dead end in India. But I am purview to that confidential information.