Edmonton’s mayor has been in contact with businesses impacted by an extortion scheme, a spokesperson for his office confirms.
“The mayor was made aware by local businesses about these extortion calls and arson a couple of weeks ago.
“Mayor Sohi immediately reached out to the city manager and chief of police to share these concerns and has remained in touch with some of the impacted businesses,” Justin Draper wrote in an email to CTV News Edmonton.
“The mayor appreciates the collective efforts of fire rescue and [Edmonton Police Service], and all businesses in Edmonton deserve to conduct their business without fear and intimidation.”
EPS has confirmed it is investigating 18 cases of extortion involving local businesses since October.
Most of the business owners are members of the South Asian community.
Victims have allegedly received messages through WhatsApp or social media demanding payment of a large sum.
If the victim doesn’t pay, fires are set at newly built homes or show homes.
EPS says there have also been follow-up demands for larger sums of money, which has escalated to violence, including drive-by shootings.
Six people have been charged in connection to the cases.
According to court documents obtained by CTV News Edmonton, Parminder Singh, 20, was arrested for 12 firearms-related charges in October.
He is accused of shooting at a home in the Laurel area. He also is accused of pointing his gun at police.
Court documents say Hassan Dembil, Manav Heer, Ravinder Sandhu, and an underage male intentionally or recklessly caused damage by fire or explosion.
Police are also looking for a male who they believe is behind deliberately set fires that destroyed two houses in a west Edmonton neighbourhood in late December.
A person of interest in a deliberately set fire on Dec. 29 at Woodhaven Point. (Credit: Edmonton Police Service)
Three of the houses that were burned were in the Aster neighbourhood in southeast Edmonton.
The councillor that represents the area says she’s worried.
“I am concerned, especially when reports are saying it could be extortion. I think that takes a lot of resources away from our fire service investigating and our police investigating, and it’s concerning for me that residents are feeling unsafe,” Ward Sspomitapi Councillor Jo-Anne Wright told CTV News Edmonton.
A public safety analyst for CTV News believes there are likely additional victims who are afraid to come forward.
“If they don’t come forward it really hampers the police investigation and their ability to find out who’s doing these things,” Chris Lewis said Thursday morning.
“Once the buildings have been burned as a result of an extortion then the police are playing catch up as opposed to trying to find out who is behind it from the moment the threat and correspondence is received.”
CTV News Edmonton has made several requests to speak to the Canadian Homebuilder’s Association with no success.
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