A specialised Canadian police task force has arrested five people, including two women, of Indian origin for alleged extortion and firearm-related offences targeting the South Asian business community in the Greater Toronto area.
The Peel Regional Police Extortion Investigative Task Force (EITF), with the support of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), executed a search warrant resulting in the arrest of four individuals, Gagan Ajit Singh, 23, Anmoldeep Singh, 23, Hashmeet Kaur, 25, Iyamjot Kaur, 21, and Arundeep Thind, 39, according to a Peel Regional Police press release on Wednesday.
While Gagan Ajit Singh, Hashmeet Kaur and Iyamjot Kaur belong to the Brampton area, Anmoldeep Singh belongs to Mississauga. They have been charged with extortion, unauthorised possession of a firearm, unauthorised possession of prohibited or restricted weapon, and fraud, among other offences. The fifth suspect, Arundeep Thind, has no fixed address and has been charged with extortion.
The Peel Regional Police launched the 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, at a news conference on Wednesday, said a total of 24 charges have been laid in relation 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.
Similar extortion attempts are under investigation by law enforcement in Edmonton, the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and several jurisdictions in the US, she said.
She said the Peel 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.