Tuesday, February 27, 2024

‘Community very shaken’: Extortion threats prompt Indian community leaders to hold public forum in Canada

by Asian News International

Ottawa [Canada], January 6 (ANI): Leaders of the Indian community in Canada’s Surrey are set to hold a public forum on Saturday over the “current law and order situation” in the Lower Mainland, Canada-based Global News reported.

The event, organised by the Vedic Hindu Cultural Society of British Columbia’s comes in the wake of warnings by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of an extortion racket threatening local business owners.

It also follows a shooting incident on December 27 that appeared to target the house of the society’s president’s son. Although Satish Kumar’s son was not injured in the incident, bullet holes hit his property in Newton-area.

Kumar, a business owner and president of the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir temple, said, “The community is very scared right now.”

“A lot of people got phone calls and letters … I heard some people already gave them the money too,” he was cited as saying according to Global News report.

Satish Kumar said his son’s family home was targeted by gunfire in December and although he and his family did not receive any extortion calls or letters, the rising violence has people on edge. In an interview, Kumar said, “The community is very shaken right now.”

The Metro Vancouver business owner said the incident has rattled him and he is calling for attendance at the forum in Surrey.

He said, “My children are afraid, my mom and dad are very afraid, you know, they don’t want me leaving the house.” He further said that the recent arrests announced by Surrey RCMP did not offer much comfort.

In November, police in Abbotsford and the RCMP warned about disturbing letters that were circulating at the time that claimed to be from an “Indian gang” and demanded USD 2 million in “protection money.” The people who received the letter were given a month to comply or face retaliation and they were warned that if they went to police, there would be “no more letter, only bullet.”

Investigators have linked the threatening letters to shots fired at a home in White Rock on December 4. Const. Art Stele of the Abbotsford Police Department said the extortion letters have caused “unrest” and a sense of “insecurity” in Abbotsford. He said the force is in touch with police in Edmonton, where 18 incidents related to an alleged extortion scheme targeting the South Asian business community are currently being probed.

According to the Global News report, it started with a voice mail demanding payment of some kind. Later, a series of missed calls followed and then came the gunshots targeting the residence of the Metro Vancouver business owner, whose family and community are now gripped with fear.

The businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the original message demanded money, “otherwise there would be consequences.” He said that at first it appeared like a “prank” of some kind and he did not take the calls seriously. However, he called the would-be extortionists back.

The police is dealing with similar investigations of extortion schemes targeting business owners in South Asian communities in at least three provinces, Global News reported. According to tactic investigators, these schemes are commonly used by organised crime groups in Punjab region.

In early December 2023, police in British Columbia’s Abbotsford revealed that extortion letters had been circulating among businesses in the city and that its major crime unit was looking into the matter.

At the time, Abbotsford police said that social media posts showing an extortion letter were consistent with what they were seeing. The police department said it was also carrying out investigation about the leak of a police “Law Enforcement Only” bulletin that said investigators were looking into an “ongoing extortion” believed to be related to two shootings at the residences of victims and an arson case.

It said the suspects are believed to be tied to a gang based in India headed by a man named Lawrence Bishnoi, and the scheme targets “affluent members of the South Asian community.”

The bulletin said the Hindi-speaking suspects use the messaging service WhatsApp to contact victims and threaten violence after “demanding large quantities of currency.”

Police said the suspects in some cases appear to have detailed knowledge regarding the victim’s personal information, like family members, vehicles and lifestyle patterns. In a statement, Abbotsford Police spokesman Const. Art Stele said police have not confirmed that the “letters are linked to incidences of violence.”

The statement said, “Yet all possible avenues and leads are being investigated.” The statement added, “As there are many moving parts to this investigation, we cannot answer all questions as to not impede on the ongoing investigation, yet will communicate what we can to ensure the public is informed.”

Other police agencies are now involved in a multi-jurisdictional investigation in British Columbia. According to the police, similar extortion schemes were being investigated in Ontario and Alberta.

Earlier in December, the Peel Regional Police in Ontario announced the launch of an Extortion Investigative Task Force after the arrest of a 23-year-old man from Abbotsford on December 8.

In Surrey, RCMP Cpl. Sarbjit Sangha in an interview that similar reports of extortion attempts have happened in their jurisdiction, in Edmonton, West Vancouver and White Rock. She said it started after rumours spread in the community that escalated into complaints being filed with RCMP.

Sangha said, “There was also rumour in the community that people were paying the amount that was being requested and not calling the police. So we wanted to make sure the business community knew we are here to help them.”

On December 28, Surrey RCMP arrested two people that they said were related to extortion attempts. However, the two people were released while charges are considered by the British Columbia’s Prosecution Service.

On January 3, police in Edmonton announced that they were carrying out an investigation into 18 extortion incidents in the region that they believe are related to a series of arson and drive-by shootings. All these crimes happened in the last three months of 2023.

This week, the Edmonton Police said that six young men have been arrested in connection with the extortion attempts, shootings and arsons. It said that they are looking for another potential suspect in a arson case of December 29, Global News reported.

Edmonton police said failure to pay the extorted money has resulted in fires or other property damage to new home builds, show homes and related property. At least seven cases of arson in new neighbourhoods in Edmonton in the last two months of 2023 have been related to the investigation, Global News reported, citing police and fire department.

According to Edmonton police, suspects have also been known to make follow-up demands for higher amounts of money, “leading to an escalation of violence and drive-by shootings.” One such shooting incident took place in October and was witnessed by police who were already working in the area.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal while answering queries at a regular media briefing in New Delhi said members of the Indian community in Canada is a “matter of serious concern.” (ANI)

This story has not been edited by Khalsa Vox and is published from a syndicated feed.

Asian News International

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