Toronto, Feb 8 (IANS) Canadian police have arrested three men and two women of Punjab origin and laid almost two dozen charges in connection with extortion threats targeting the South Asian business community in the Greater Toronto Area.
Gagan Ajit Singh, 23, Anmoldeep Singh, 23, Hashmeet Kaur, 25, and Lymanjot Kaur, 21 -- all from Brampton and Mississauga -- face a laundry list of charges, which include extortion, firearms-related offences, and fraud.
The fifth suspect, Arundeep Thind, 39, has been charged separately in connection with an alleged extortion incident on January 26, the Peel Regional Police (PRP) said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Gagan Ajit and Anmoldeep were held for bail hearings and attended the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, police said.
While Iymanjot and Hashmeet will attend the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton at a later date, Thind was held for a bail hearing and attended the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, the PRP release said.
"We understand the impact these incidents have caused to the victims and their families, and see how deeply these incidents are being felt throughout our community," PRP chief Nishan Duraiappah said in a statement.
Duraiappah, who also addressed a news conference on Wednesday announcing the arrests, added that police agencies in India as well as Canada have been contacted as "there's a complex ecosystem of people involved", in these crimes.
The PRP said its 23-member Extortion Investigative Task Force (EITF), with the support of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), executed a search warrant resulting in the arrests concerning incidents that occurred throughout the GTA since December 2023.
"These incidents included mischief to property, threats, and firearms-related offences," a PRP statement read.
"We took immediate steps in mobilising the Extortion Investigative Task Force. With the help of our community, we have made arrests and will continue to hold accountable those responsible," Duraiappah said in a statement.
EITF's lead superintendent Shelley Thompson said 29 cases are currently under investigation and of these, nine incidents have involved shootings at local businesses, with multiple bullets being fired, the CP24 news channel reported.
Thompson said the businesses being targeted are South Asian-owned and include restaurants, bakeries, trucking and transport companies, independent used car dealerships, and jewellery stores.
Speaking about their modus operandi, Thompson said the victims are contacted via phone or social media and threatened to pay in cash or transfer money -- either in Indian or Canadian currency.
Police believe that a lot of these incidents are underreported due to victims' fear of the suspects.
"We believe that there could be more residents and businesses who may have been contacted. I urge those business owners and community members to come forward to speak with our Extortion Investigative Task Force," Duraiappah said.
Raising concerns over an "alarming" escalation of extortion threats against Indian and South Asian business communities, mayors in the Canadian towns of Brampton and Surrey urged the government last month to take swift action to root out the menace.
Brown and Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke expressed "deep concern" over a growing number of "extortion attempts and violent acts, including shootings" in a letter addressed to Canada's Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc in January.