South Asian business owners are doing everything they can to protect themselves and their families following a wave of violent extortion attempts across the county, including wearing bulletproof vests every time they leave their homes.
West of Toronto, in Peel Region, police say 29 extortion attempts by members of the South Asian community have been reported. They generally received a call, a WhatsApp message or a voice note demanding the delivery of a million dollars. Many of those who refused to comply had gunmen open fire on their homes or businesses.
This week, Peel police announced they had arrested five people allegedly connected to some of the reported extortion attempts. During a packed press conference this week, Peel’s police chief acknowledged that this is a national and international problem.
“There are similar trends that we’ve been seeing in Alberta and also in mainland British Columbia, as well as in certain places in the United States,” said Chief Nishan Duraiappah.
CTV National News spoke with a South Asian business owner who asked us to withhold his identity. For the purposes of our story, we will call him Eric.
Eric first received an extortion request in December. After refusing to pay, he became the target of armed men on multiple occasions.
He came to our interview wearing a bulletproof vest. As Eric held up his sweater to show us, she shared that she doesn’t leave the house without it. “For my peace of mind, for my family, I have to take some measures for my safety,” he said.
When asked if he ever thought he would have to leave his house wearing a bulletproof vest, Eric says: “Never. Canada is a country where people come looking for peace, where people come looking for a better life for your safety. I think it’s going in the opposite direction.”
The same people who pull the trigger are recording violent videos of homes and businesses being shot up in the middle of the night. They then claim responsibility and share the attack on social media pages linked to well-known Indian gangsters.
CTV News sat down with Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and asked him if he believes organized crime is behind these extortion attempts targeting South Asian businesses.
“Of course, these investigations have led police in Ontario, British Columbia and now Alberta to determine that these organizations reside in India, outside of Canadian borders,” he quickly responded.
People who claim to be behind some of the extortion attempts that led to shootings at homes and businesses contacted CTV News and said they were open to a phone interview to share a message.
During the phone interview, they stated that they are “operating in Canada, Edmonton, Surrey, BC, Nova Scotia and even in Europe. We are everywhere,” and further shared with CTV that they have been involved in “35 or 40” homes and businesses throughout Canada.
They say they are working in connection with two organized crime leaders, one based in Pakistan and another residing in India.
People who spoke to CTV say they posted two videos of the shoot on a social media page under the name Rinda Sandu. Sandu is an organized crime figure in India and Pakistan who reportedly died of a drug overdose in a Lahore hospital, although other media reports suggest that she is still alive.
People who spoke to CTV News by phone say they are working with Sandu and that his extortion attempts in Canada have led to them collecting $1.5 million.
They also allege that they worked with three of the five people recently arrested by Peel police, claiming that the three they worked with, who have currently been charged, are not even the people behind the shootings. They say the three accused individuals did “IT work and hacking.”
People who spoke by phone repeatedly told CTV News that they only target wealthy businessmen from the South Asian community who are involved in their own illegal activities.
They told CTV News: “These trucking companies, these car dealerships, they’re doing illegal things that you don’t know about, but we do.”
The anonymous spokesperson on the other end of the line told us to send a message to these South Asian companies: “We’re coming for you.”
Peel police say they are working with the RCMP and have open lines of communication with Indian authorities. Although Eric, the South Asian businessman CTV spoke to, says more support is needed from all levels of government and law enforcement.
“We are crying, my family is struggling, my employees, all the associates. We need help,” says Eric, who goes on to say, “If you (the government and police) can’t protect us, let us know, we can pay for protection.” money so we can go enjoy our lives.