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Extortion in B.C. one focus of new national policing team

Alberta, Ontario police agencies also investigating threats against South Asian businesses
An example of an extortion letter businesses in Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver have received, saying “Indian gang members” are demanding “protection money” of $2 million. Several B.C. police agencies are now part of a national RCMP team aimed at coordinating the extortion threats.

Police in B.C., Alberta and Ontario are now part of a cross-border team to investigate a number of extortion threats and violence that have targeted South Asian individuals and businesses in recent months.

RCMP announced a national coordination and support team has been created, working with police departments in the three provinces, and outside of Canada, to address the incidents. The team has been up and running since the new year, RCMP Supt. Adam MacIntosh said during a news conference at B.C. RCMP headquarters in Surrey Thursday (Feb. 15).

While the individual police investigations have led to arrests and charges, MacIntosh said the national team has allowed the various police departments to discuss their investigations and share intelligence and information.

“The team is looking at all similarities and motivations as well as reports that these incidents are associated to organized crime groups,” MacIntosh said.

The team says that police in Canada have reported that individuals or businesses from the South Asian community are generally contacted through letters, phone calls or social media, demanding money under a threat of violence.

“We discourage anyone from complying with demands for money.”

In B.C., a photo of letter began circulating online that said two Abbotsford houses shot at in November were targeted because they did not pay “protection money.” At the time, Abbotsford Police Const. Art Steele said he couldn’t elaborate on the matter as it was under investigation.

In December 2023, Surrey RCMP said two men had been arrested in connection with the extortion investigation. The Surrey men, both in their twenties, were released shortly after .

Police in Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver first warned of the extortion letters on Nov. 23, saying they might have been sent en masse to businesses, requesting money in exchange for protection from violence. In December, the local police agencies said the incidents and letters could be from gang members in India.

READ MORE: ‘We have links all over,’ say extortion letters in Abbotsford and Surrey

READ MORE: Business extortion letters linked to recent White Rock shooting

READ MORE: RCMP say business extortion attempts being reported across Lower Mainland

In Alberta, the Edmonton Police Service has a dedicated team working on Project Gaslight, which has a reported 34 events in the city.

The latest update from Edmonton Police, on Jan. 18, said the area’s South Asian community had been targeted in extortions, arsons and “firearm offences.” An estimated $9 million in property damage had been reported as a result of the arsons and shootings.

In Ontario, Peel Regional Police said in a Feb. 12 news conference that suspects have been using social media or internet-based messaging platforms to contact victims under the demand for money with the threat of violence.

On Jan. 24, a task force dedicated to the extortion investigations searched a home in Brampton, Ont. and four people were arrested and charged. More than 50 cellphones, 11 laptops, a “large sum of cash” and a firearm with several rounds of ammunition were seized.

“This was terrorizing our community. This was terrorizing the South Asian community, ” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said

The national coordination team won’t be taking over the various investigations, but will instead be helping to provide tools and support to advance the local investigations.

READ MORE: Extortion threats plague south Asian communities in B.C. and across Canada

MacIntosh said he couldn’t speak to a connection to India and whether or not RCMP had made contact with police agencies there.

“What I can tell you is there’s a lot of information out there right now who’s responsible, why they’re responsible and how these things are occurring, phone calls or letters, et cetera.”

If a police agency has already released details specific to their investigation, “that’s for them to speak to and I welcome them to do that.”

He added RCMP deal with investigations that have international components and organized crime ever day.

B.C.’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the announcement of the team is a “welcome step forward in combating organized crime and extortion attempts in our communities.” Tackling organized crime, he said, is a shared responsibility across all levels of government.

– With files from Vikki Hopes

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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