The Edmonton Police Service revealed more details Thursday about an investigation into violence associated with extortion attempts they believe are connected to organized crime and being directed from someone in India.
At a news conference Thursday morning, EPS Deputy Chief Devin Laforce called the crimes part of a “new trend that is impacting us and other parts of Canada,” and described the investigation as being comprised of a “disturbing series of files.”
He said the extortion attempts are targeting members of the city’s South Asian community.
“(The EPS) task force (working on the case) is connected nationally to several policing agencies that are experiencing similar types of crimes,” Laforce told reporters. “Obviously there is complexity with these investigations when they span multiple jurisdictions, let alone trans-national connections.
“This now-national task force is working very well together and sharing information and strategies with each other. We have met with our South Asian community members and are working collaboratively with them on a number of fronts.”
Police said they are also working with the RCMP which is in dialogue with their law enforcement agencies operating abroad.
A recent drive-by shooting is among 27 “events” that the EPS is looking at in connection with their ongoing investigation into the extortion attempts.
“On Jan. 10, 2024, at approximately 1:10 a.m., a suspect in a vehicle fired shots into a Cy Becker residence occupied by a family with children,” police said in a news release issued Thursday morning. “No one was struck, although bullets were recovered from inside the home.
“The occupants of the home have no known involvement in criminal activity.”
Police said the shooting is the second time that the northeast Edmonton home was targeted and that investigators believe the shooting relates to its extortion investigation.
According to police, investigators working on the case are looking into five extortion attempts, 15 arsons and seven “firearms offences” in connection with the case. When asked, they confirmed the majority of those firearms offences are shootings but did not provide details on those except for the drive-by attack on Jan. 10.
The EPS confirmed a fire that broke out Tuesday at a home under construction in Beaumont, Alta., is the latest event investigators are looking at.
2 Beaumont fires confirmed arson, believed to be linked to Edmonton extortion case
Police have said a number of the arsons appear to be targeting houses being built by homebuilders of South Asian descent.
“No injuries have been reported as a result of the shootings, but a firefighter was injured in one of the arsons,” police said. “An estimated $9 million in property damage has been reported as a result of the arsons and shootings.”
Staff Sgt. David Marentette with the Beaumont RCMP detachment said one concern shared by various law enforcement agencies is what steps are being taken by the criminals involved to determine if anyone is inside before starting a fire at a home.
“It’s obviously very concerning from a community safety aspect,” he said, adding that the eyes and ears of community members are vital to the investigation.
“The community’s best placed to know what’s suspicious and what isn’t.”
Police noted that while similar events have been reported in B.C. and Ontario, “at this time, investigators do not believe these to be connected to the Edmonton series.”
Laforce added he wanted to reassure Edmontonians that police “will not tolerate our citizens, any of our communities or our city to be terrorized and extorted by these criminals.
“We need the help from the community on this.”
Insp. Lance Parker also spoke at the news conference and stressed how important it is for victims to come forward to police.
“The only way to identify these suspects and stop these crimes from happening is to gather evidence to arrest them and get them in front of the courts, and we need your witness information to do that,” he said.
“There may be people out there who have paid the extortion fee and have not reported it to police. And if that’s the case, we want to know about it.”
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Global News spoke to a businessman in the homebuilding sector from the Edmonton area who is of South Asian descent. Global News has agreed not to name him for safety reasons.
“It is very concerning,” he said, adding he believes some people may have paid the protection money because they do not trust the justice system will be able to handle the situation.
“This is not only affecting people’s businesses. It’s also affecting people’s peace of mind, families.”
The businessman told Global News he is also concerned by what he suggested is a lack of support for the victims from leaders from various levels of government in Alberta.
He noted that mayors in other Canadian municipalities dealing with a similar situation have written to the federal government about the matter.
Global News has reached out to the Edmonton mayor’s office, the provincial public safety minister’s office and the federal justice minister’s office for comment on the matter.
Global News also reached out to the federal public safety minister’s office which responded and asked that the request for comment be redirected to the RCMP’s head office which Global News then reached out to.
Staff Sgt. David Paton told reporters investigators want to hear more from victims or others in the community who may have information that could help police.
“We understand why they may be reluctant,” he said.
Paton said the criminals primarily target South Asian homebuilders whom they believe to be affluent and “able to provide funds.”
“(The suspects make a) demand for a significant amount of money,” he said. “(But) it’s going to take a community effort… not just the South Asian community … everybody in the city.
“Typically, our victims receive a WhatsApp (messaging app) communication … There’s a request that comes along with that for compensation to allow those victims to remain safe.
“It’s our belief that these crimes are being orchestrated from India.”
The businessman Global News spoke to said he is concerned by police highlighting that people of South Asian descent are the focus of the extortion attempts because he believes people from other backgrounds have been targeted too. He also said he believes highlighting the victims being of South Asian descent could fuel bigotry.
“Criminals do not differentiate,” he said. “This has nothing to do with race. This is a criminal versus a business person.
“Today they could be South Asian, tomorrow they could be someone else.”
Parker said six “young males” have already been arrested in connection with the arsons and firearms offences. Earlier this month, police released details about charges that have been laid so far. He said while police believe the crimes are being carried out by local people, investigators believe they are “being directed by a suspect in India” and that a criminal network is involved.
Paton said one person who is at least a person of interest in the case “has likely left the country.”
Parker added police are looking into whether a fire this week in the Orchards community on the city’s south side could be connected to the investigation.
“That has yet to be confirmed,” he noted.
Edmonton police believe arson, extortion series being committed by locals
Anyone with information about the drive-by shooting or other events related to the investigation is asked to call police at 780-423-4567. Video and photos of a suspect vehicle can be viewed at the bottom of this article.
When speaking with police dispatch, callers can reference file #23-802638. Anonymous information can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at http://www.p3tips.com/250.
More to come…
Edmonton police ask public to help identify suspect vehicle in drive-by shooting
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