Shopkeepers of Arab origin in Laval and Montreal are victims of a systematic campaign of intimidation and attacks led by an organized crime group that wants to force them to pay a “tax” of protection. Threats, fires, assaults, discharges of firearms: the police have listed no less than 67 events related to the phenomenon for a year. Three police forces united to react.

“They are not randomly targeted. It is the community that is targeted, “said Inspector Kimon Christopoulos, of the Laval police.

Since April 2022, a series of threats and attacks have targeted merchants of Arab origin in the Laval district of Chomedey, mainly on Boulevard Curé-Labelle south of Highway 440, and in the borough of Saint-Laurent , to Montreal. Cafes, shisha (flavored tobacco) lounges, restaurants, bars, car shops were affected.

None of the merchants contacted by La Presse wished to grant an interview on Thursday. But according to reliable sources who have collected the confidences of some victims, some would have been demanded several thousand dollars a month by criminals, who asked them to pay for “protection”. When they refused, these traders suffered threats, shots fired in their windows and fires. One of them was even stabbed during a performance.

Over the past few months, after noticing that the phenomenon had a regional scope even in the northern crown, the Laval police set up an investigation project, called Project Wick, with the help of the Montreal police. and the Sûreté du Québec, to identify and arrest those responsible. Nineteen suspects were arrested during the year, but the criminal acts continued, which suggests that high-ranking organized crime actors are placing orders and can count on new thugs to replace those that have been withdrawn from circulation.

“We have seen the involvement of organized crime from the Near and Middle East, as well as street gangs,” confirms Inspector Christopoulos.

Thursday evening, the three police forces involved in the case visited several establishments together to reassure merchants and customers.

Asked several times about this during a meeting with the media on Wednesday, the inspector did not want to say whether some of the victims also had links with criminal circles. One thing is certain, many victims do not have one.

“They are honest citizens trying to make a living. These are [people] who often invest everything in their business. They make a lot of sacrifices. They just went through a pandemic and they don’t deserve this,” he said.

One of the suspects arrested so far, Brandon Flores Rodriguez, is accused of having threatened the owners of three establishments located in Laval and Sainte-Thérèse, demanding that they pay him to ensure their protection. At the time of his arrest, he had on him $10,000 in $100 bills, as well as a gold-colored pendant representing an AK-47 assault rifle, according to the court file.

One of the merchants he is accused of having threatened was attacked and stabbed five days later by other individuals at the Bay Rock Lounge on Curé-Labelle Boulevard.

According to our sources, two groups linked to Lebanese organized crime in Laval are currently on the loose, and investigators are trying to see if they could be vying for control of the protection racket and certain criminal activities that require access to shops. One of the antagonistic groups is close to a Montreal mafia clan, La Presse was able to confirm.

The police encourage anyone who could help the investigation to contact the authorities. She assures that new arrests could take place in the weeks or months to come. When exactly ? “We still wish it were yesterday,” says Detective Christopoulos.