OTTAWA — Gold, cash, electronics and other valuables have been stolen during 18 Ottawa break-ins since last fall, all targeting people of Asian descent, police said Thursday.
From a pair of burglaries on Oct. 22, to the last known cases on Dec. 19, at least $1 million worth of goods has been taken, said Staff Sgt. Kal Ghadban of the street crime and break-and-enter team.
The victims all own or have ties to Asian restaurants, he said. The thieves’ loot has included gold bars, high-end merchandise and cash, he said.
“These people are organized enough to ensure people aren’t seeing them or they’re not creating any sort of suspicion,“ Ghadban said. “How is it that during the day, 18 homes in suburban areas have been broken into . . . and nobody sees them?“
A dedicated team of six investigators is attempting to identify the burglars. An organized crime group is one theory, Ghadban said, but the suspects have never been caught on video, and no witnesses have come forward.
Police are in touch with other Ontario forces that have dealt with similar cases.
Lead investigator Det. James Kusiewicz said Halton had a similar case in 2008 involving Asian restaurant owners and employees being targeted, then about a year ago York Region had a similar series of thefts. There were arrests in both cases, Kusiewicz said,
“In those cases it was, in fact, organized crime that was doing it,” Ghadban said, adding Ottawa could be dealing with a different cell of the same organization.
There are similarities between all the Ottawa cases, even though the locations were throughout the city.
Most victims are Vietnamese but others have been Chinese, Japanese and Korean, he said. Beside specific victims, the cases include similar daytime entries, through the backs of homes, and the searches are precise, he said.
Safes have been broken into so the robbers appear to come prepared with tools, he said.
One of the greatest hurdles in the investigation is getting people, whether it’s witnesses or victims, to come forward. Any information about suspicious behaviour, whether it’s about a person, vehicle or something else, could be what police need to solve the case, he said.
Ghadban said there are probably more victims. But police think fear, of trusting officials and of having to explain having large amounts of cash at home, are some of the barriers.
“There’s also the fear, that if it is any sort of organized crime, there’s that fear of retribution,“ Ghadban said, adding victims would not need to testify in court.
On Thursday, the woman who answered the phone at the Chinatown Business Improvement Association said the organization wouldn’t talk about the break-ins, because there were robberies shortly after a statement was made last year.
It’s been almost a month since the last reported break-in. But Ghadban isn’t sure the robberies are over.
“It’s so difficult to say with a serial offence, you don’t know,” he said. “Is this it?“