Edmonton police hold meeting to provide an update on extortions

Members of Edmonton’s south Asian community met with police to share concerns and information related to the string of arsons and gun violence brought on by an extortion scheme. Elliott Knopp with the latest from law enforcement and reaction from the community.

It’s an empty lot in Beaumont along 42 Avenue, where a home under construction was burned to the ground just weeks ago as part of an extortion campaign Edmonton police say is targeting the South Asian business community.

But at a meeting Thursday, EPS warned South Asian parents to watch over their kids and take note of their driving habits late at night, as teens participating in these crimes may be using their parent’s vehicles.

“I’m very concerned about the community and our youth,” said Varinder Bhullar, a community activist.

Bhullar is one of hundreds who attended the meeting with police Thursday. As someone who organizes summer camps for South Asian youth, he’s deeply concerned.

“All of those kids that are getting involved feel like my own kids. I think we need to find a mechanism to bring them to our mainstream. We need to find a way to get them out of this mess.” 

The meeting was closed to media cameras, but EPS says there are now 34 investigations into the extortion scheme since October 2023, including cases of direct extortion, arson, and targeted shootings — all linked to organized crime.

“We have young people that are being influenced and radicalized into this gang activity. It’s something we absolutely take seriously,” said Deputy Chief Devin LaForce. 

Adding they’ve identified 12 people of interest, including the six young men previously arrested and charged, as well as many others thought to be associated with them.

It comes as Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre called for more to be done federally on Friday, as similar extortions are being investigated in Ontario and B.C.

“We don’t have to live like this. Let me be clear. This is a federal problem,” said Poilievre.

READ MORE: Poilievre proposes expanding mandatory prison terms for extortion-related crimes

Edmonton police say they are unable to confirm a link to other provinces at this time.

But Edmonton’s mayor says Thursday’s meeting was necessary to break down barriers between EPS and the community and provide transparency.

“Information they shared gives comfort to the community that the investigation is taking place, that EPS and coordination with the other agencies locally, as well as provincially and nationally are going to be producing some very positive results,” explained Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.

Community members say it’s a first step.

“They’re trying to bring youth on stream instead of throwing them into jail, and I think that’s important,” said Bhullar.

Investigators say they know people are being extorted in Edmonton, and not coming forward — reminding them — any information they can share is crucial to the investigation and building evidence for the courts.

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