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Edmonton police to host public meeting on extortion, arsons targeting South Asian businesses

After a rash of extortion attempts targeting South Asian home builders in the Edmonton area, police will address community concerns at a public meeting Thursday.

More than a dozen incidents of arson targeting new or under-construction homes are part of the investigation, with houses going up in flames after local business owners receive WhatsApp messages demanding significant amounts of money.

The Edmonton Police Service said last month that they believe the extortion scheme is being orchestrated by a criminal network in India.

This week’s meeting is being promoted as a platform for concerns and information after EPS issued an appeal for tips at the beginning of the year, urging anyone who’s been targeted to report it.

During a news conference last month, EPS Staff Sgt. Dave Paton said investigators needed more information from the community.

“We understand why they would maybe be reluctant, but I think it’s important that they do come forward,” he said.

As of Jan. 18, EPS said the case involved 27 events: five extortions, 15 arsons and seven firearms offences, which include drive-by shootings. Police didn’t provide updated numbers as of Wednesday, but at least two additional fires in recent weeks are under investigation. 

Police also arrested two people in a southeast Edmonton neighbourhood on Jan. 29 in relation to an attempted arson.

Police say Edmonton area extortions targeting home builders orchestrated from India

21 days ago

Duration 2:27

Edmonton police are investigating 27 events in an ongoing extortion, arson and firearms series affecting the South Asian community in the region. An estimated $9 million in property damage has been reported from the arson and shootings.

South Asian businesses have been targeted in similar extortion schemes in Ontario and B.C. — the meeting in Edmonton comes the day after Peel Regional Police, north of Toronto, announced their investigation now covers 29 extortion cases, and five more people have been charged.

 Edmonton police have said they don’t believe the extortion attempts in the city and elsewhere in Canada are connected.

Edmonton meeting follows similar gathering in B.C.

In Surrey, B.C., Vedic Hindu Cultural Society of BC president Satish Kumar helped organize a public forum in early January on shootings and extortion letters targeting South Asian business owners in the Lower Mainland.

He told CBC News that hundreds of people showed up to discuss the situation with police and political leaders.

“The big problem in our community — there are a lot of extortion calls and people asking for money from them. But people were not reporting to police, to the RCMP,” Kumar said.

The event helped bring people together to address the fear around the threats, he said.

“Our purpose of the meeting was to put this in the front, tell the people, make sure you report to the RCMP.”

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi wrote to Canada’s public safety minister last month, echoing a call from the mayors of Surrey and Brampton, Ont., for the federal government to lead a co-ordinated response to the escalating extortion threats.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and preceding impacts of the cost of living crisis have been devastating for Canadian businesses, and the last thing they need is to be victimized by organized crime,” Sohi wrote.

“Edmonton has worked hard to gain an international reputation as a city where investments and doing business is safe. I worry that such threats, if unresolved, will harm that reputation.”

Coun. Jo-Anne Wright’s Ward Sspomitapi includes southeast communities like Aster and Laurel, where homes have burned down. She said that has an impact on the whole neighbourhood, with many people concerned about whether their homes are safe.

Wright said she hopes the town hall is an opportunity for police to build trust with the local community.

“Some of the threats they’ve been receiving indicate not to contact police, and just pay the money,” she said.

“I think it’s important for the police to get the information firsthand, upfront, so that they can do their investigation.”

Thursday’s meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. at the Ridgewood Community League.

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