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Edmonton police investigating reports of targeted extortion, arson

Police say members of Edmonton’s South Asian business community have been targeted in an alleged extortion scheme — in some cases, arson and gunfire follows demands for money.

The Edmonton Police Service is setting up a dedicated team of investigators to look into at least 18 incidents in the city and surrounding area dating back to October.

In a statement Wednesday, EPS said victims are reportedly getting WhatsApp calls and texts asking for large amounts of money. Sometimes, the messages come with knowledge of the target’s personal information, like their family members, vehicles and routines.

“Failure to pay the extorted sum results in arson or other property damage to new home builds, show homes and related property,” EPS said in the statement.

A spokesperson for Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said between Nov. 1 and Jan. 2, there were nine fires involving new homes or houses under construction.

All but one has been deemed arson, and the final remaining fire is under investigation as suspicious. Some involved more than one house, and EFRS said in total, the fires compromised or damaged 14 homes and one garage.

Most happened in developing suburbs like Aster, Laurel, Woodhaven Edgemont and Cy Becker — communities near or just outside Anthony Henday Drive. But EFRS said there were also fires in the central King Edward Park neighbourhood and the university area.

Fire investigators determine the cause of a fire, but police lead the criminal investigation if arson is involved.

EPS reports ‘escalation of violence’ in some cases

Police in Ontario and B.C. have been looking at similar reports of extortion.

Just north of Toronto, Peel Regional Police launched their own investigative task force last month to look at a “disturbing trend” of extortion attempts “primarily targeted towards members of our South Asian business community.”

RCMP in Surrey, B.C., also issued a statement in November about extortion “targeting business owners throughout the Lower Mainland” and asked any alleged targets to come forward.

In Edmonton, police said there have been cases of further demands for more money, “leading to an escalation of violence and drive-by shootings.”

EPS said there haven’t been any reported injuries in those cases, but a 20-year-old man was charged after shots were allegedly fired at a house in the Laurel area on Oct. 19.

A 19-year-old man was also arrested in December on five firearms charges.

Four other young men — two that are 18, one 19-year-old and a youth who can’t be identified under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act — are facing arson charges after a fire last month in the northeast Cy Becker neighbourhood.

Edmonton police are asking anyone who has received threats or might have other information about the incidents to contact them.

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