The Canadian police have arrested five people, including two women, of Indian origin in connection with extortion threats targeting business owners of the South Asian community in the Greater Toronto area.
On January 24, Peel Police arrested four people from Brampton for offences including property damage, threats, and firearms-related violations.
The suspects have been identified as Gagan Ajit Singh, 23, from Brampton, Anmoldeep Singh, 23, from Mississauga, Hashmeet Kaur, 25, and Iymanjot Kaur, 21, both from Brampton. They face multiple charges including extortion, uttering threats to cause death, unauthorised firearm possession and related offences, stated Peel Police in a press release on Wednesday.
The police said that Gagan Ajit and Anmoldeep have already been produced before the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton while Iymanjot and Hashmeet will attend the court at a later date.
On January 26, a 32-year-old reported receiving threatening messages demanding money via phone and WhatsApp.
The fifth suspect, Arundeep Thind, 39, was separately charged with extortion in connection with this incident.
Thind was held for a bail hearing and attended the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, the Canadian police press release said.
The Peel Regional Police launched the Extortion Investigative Task Force (EITF) in December last year in response to a wave of South Asian business owners reporting threats of violence against them and their families if they didn’t pay money, according to a CBC News report.
Superintendent Shelley Thompson, who heads the unit, said at a news conference on Wednesday that a total of 24 charges have been laid in connection to the 29 extortion attempts under investigation. Thompson said in nine of those instances, guns were fired at unoccupied businesses, according to the Toronto Star newspaper.
However, no injuries were reported in connection with the shootings.
She further said the targeted businesses vary but include restaurants and bakeries, trucking and transport companies and independent used car dealerships, all with South Asian owners. Explaining the modus operandi, Thompson said the owners were contacted either by phone, social media apps or video calling services like WhatsApp.
The financial demands varied from victim to victim, Thompson said, but the perpetrators would always ask for either cash or money transfers of Canadian dollars or Indian rupees.
She said the Peel Police task force is in touch with police services in all of those locations, as well as with the police agencies in India.
“There is currently no information to suggest that the extortion attempts in Peel are connected to wider Indian organised crime,” Thompson said, adding that such a possibility is being actively investigated.
“One of the reasons we are doing this (news conference) is to put it out there to the community that we are looking for information,” she said. The investigators believe there are likely more victims.