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Peel Region police investigating 29 extortion cases, make five arrests

An Ontario police service says it has charged five people and is separately investigating more than two dozen cases of extortion threats allegedly made toward predominately South Asian businesses. A Peel Regional Police car is seen in Brampton, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — More than two dozen cases of alleged extortion targeting predominantly South Asian businesses are being investigated west of Toronto, police in Peel Region said Wednesday as they highlighted what officials described as a troubling trend. 

The force – whose area of jurisdiction covers Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon – said they recently arrested and charged five people in alleged extortion cases and were investigating at least 29 others. 

"It is absolutely our responsibility to make sure that we respond and end this trend," Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said during a news conference.

Police said they were still looking into the motives behind the alleged extortion cases. 

"There is a complex ecosystem of people involved in this, without a doubt," Duraiappah said. "But to say that it's organized crime, it's still early in the investigation, and we're trying to go through all the evidence to see."

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said the alleged extortion threats have had a chilling effect on many in his community. 

"I can't tell you how harrowing it was to get phone calls in the fall from families that were terrified, business owners that were terrified (and) expressing complete desperation and dismay," said Brown, who was at Wednesday's news conference. 

"This was terrorizing the South Asian community ... So today is a day of relief. We have started the process to unravel this."

Brown said the latest arrests send a clear message that such alleged extortion will not be tolerated.  

Supt. Shelley Thompson, who leads a task force probing the threats, said police are currently investigating 29 alleged extortion threats dating back to November 2023 that were targeting businesses such as restaurants, bakeries, trucking companies, car dealerships and jewelry stores.

Victims are typically contacted through social media platforms or phone calls and payments of various amounts in Canadian or Indian currency is demanded under threats of violence, she said. 

"Nine of the incidents have involved shootings, with multiple rounds being fired," she said. "In most incidents, the premise has been unoccupied and we currently have no reported injuries."

Peel police are in touch with police in Alberta, British Columbia and the U.S., where a similar trend of alleged extortion has been seen, Thompson said. RCMP and other federal agencies are also involved in the investigations.

She added investigators are also working with law enforcement in India, although investigations so far have shown there is no connection between the alleged crimes in Peel and India.

In the charges announced Wednesday, police said they issued a search warrant at a Brampton home and arrested two men and two women, who are between 21 and 25 years old.

"There were over 50 cellphones that were seized, 11 laptops, a large sum of cash and a firearm with several rounds of ammunition," Thompson said.

The accused are facing charges that include arson, extortion, utter threats to cause death and discharge firearm with intent, police said.

A fifth individual was arrested and charged with extortion in a separate investigation, police said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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