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RCMP form national team in response to extortion schemes targeting South Asian business

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SURREY, B.C. -

The RCMP says it has established a national team to help co-ordinate investigations and information sharing about extortion schemes targeting South Asian businesses in B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

The team is a “nationwide alliance” of police agencies that are investigating extortion, violent threats, shootings and arsons.

RCMP Supt. Adam MacIntosh, the team's leader, said it's looking into “all similarities and motivations” behind the extortion threats, which are reportedly tied to organized crime groups.

“We discourage anyone from complying with demands for money,” MacIntosh said at news conference Thursday. “However, we are concerned … there may be individuals who have received threats and not come forward to police. Also, it is possible similar events have occurred in other communities within Canada, but have gone unreported.

MacIntosh said the team is not taking over any investigations, but rather providing support to facilitate information-sharing at a national level between forces including Peel Regional Police, Surrey RCMP, the Abbotsford Police Department and the Edmonton Police Service.

“These police agencies involved have shared with the public about the advancements made in many of their investigations across Canada,” he said.

MacIntosh added that police hope that revealing the national co-ordination and support team “will encourage anyone who has yet to come forward to trust the collective efforts underway and contact their local police.”

Peel Regional Police formed a task force to investigate extortion incidents in Ontario in December, and the Edmonton Police Service is looking into 34 cases in a probe known as “Project Gaslight.”

B.C. Public Safety Mike Farnworth said he welcomes the national team's formation, calling it an “important step forward in combating organized crime and extortion attempts in our communities.”

Extortion threats have been reported in several B.C. cities, including West Vancouver, White Rock, Abbotsford and Surrey through physical letters and phone calls and over social media apps.

Police say the extortionists demand “protection money” from would-be victims, most of whom are members of the South Asian business community.

Some have seen their businesses targeted with gunfire after refusing to pay up.

In Ontario, police arrested a 23-year-old man from Abbotsford, B.C., on Dec. 8, 2023, in connection with extortion threats that they say have “caused grave safety and security concerns among our community members.”

Edmonton police said in January that they made six arrests tied to extortion threats, shootings and arsons.

Surrey RCMP made two arrests in late December 2023 in connection with extortion threats in the city, but the pair were released pending charge approval by Crown prosecutors.

In December last year, Abbotsford police revealed that extortion letters had been circulating in the city and that its major crime unit was looking into them.

At that time, social media posts circulated some of the extortion letters and police said they were consistent with what they'd been seeing.

The department said it was also investigating a leak of a police “Law Enforcement Only” bulletin about “ongoing extortion” believed to be tied to two shootings at the homes of victims and an arson case.

The bulletin said suspects were believed to be tied to a gang based in India, and said Hindi-speaking suspects were using the messaging service WhatsApp to contact victims and threaten violence after “demanding large quantities of currency.”

MacIntosh said he couldn't reveal any specific details of different police investigations, but said “we can certainly be satisfied that there's an international component and that there's very likely organized crime involved.”

“We recognize these events can be traumatizing for those who are subjected to threats and acts of violence,” MacIntosh said. “Identifying those responsible for these criminal acts and holding them accountable is our priority.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2024.

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