Posted on November 27, 2006

Jewel Heists Target Asians

Betsy Powell and John Duncanson, Toronto Star, Nov. 21, 2006

Abdul Rasheed Khalid was alone in his Brampton jewellery store filling the display cases with yellow gold rings and necklaces when two people, one wearing a head-to-toe black burqa, appeared outside his locked door.

“Salamu alaikum,” the 58-year-old store owner said after pushing the entry buzzer, believing them to be a Muslim couple. There was no reply, and seconds later the pair — both males — forced him at gunpoint to the back office where he was bound with duct tape and hit several times. Then his store was cleaned out.

“Keep quiet, keep quiet, close your eyes,” they said, while emptying the red velvet trays into duffel bags carried by an accomplice. Khalid caught a glimpse of the crooks. He thinks they were Pakistani or Indian.

Last Friday’s daylight robbery has other South Asian jewellers across the GTA on edge, fearful they’ll be next. The thieves didn’t seem to care that Zaibi Jewellers is in the same strip mall as a storefront Peel Region police station at McLaughlin Rd. and Ray Lawson Blvd.

That unease is reflected by police, who say that robberies are up overall in Peel but there has been a particular spike in the number of South Asian jewellery heists. Det. Sgt. Bruce Chapman, who runs the Peel force’s central robbery unit, said police are “doing everything we can to solve each and every one” of the robberies.

It’s so bad that robbers, brazenly posing as police officers, hit two other stores last month, prompting Peel police to form a task force.

“They’re all scared now,” said Abdul Gheffar Shehzad, who provides jewellers with their wares. He and others from the industry gathered in Khalid’s now-closed shop yesterday. They sat amid the empty glass displays behind a door that will be closed indefinitely.

Citing several reasons, they say they are worried they are being targeted by well-organized bandits, possibly with ties to gangs. It’s not known how many businesses have been robbed, but the jewellers said at least a half-dozen retailers across the GTA have been victimized, including several businesses in Toronto’s Gerrard St. India Bazaar.

The owners believe Indian jewellery stores are easy prey because they are often found in outdoor malls without security guards and with wide-open parking lots that allow criminals to make a swift getaway.

“If you go to something like a diamond jewellery store, Peoples’ Jewellers for example, they’re located inside large malls and it’s obviously much harder to attack them versus something outside,” said Imran Ahmad, Khalid’s son-in-law.

Ahmad also points the finger at disaffected South Asian youth who have inside knowledge about the business dealings of the community.

“The ability to make a quick buck is very attractive to them,” he said. “The first generation that came here are working hard while the second generation, partially, are coming into the crime scene.”

Pakhar Jhuty said he closed shop about a year ago because he was “fed up” with the robberies and figured it was a matter of time before he got hit again. He was robbed four years ago, but the thugs got away with little.

At Nu Deep jewellers on Gore Rd. in Brampton, two suspects in police uniforms buzzed to get into the shop. The man-woman team handcuffed the victim and told him he was under arrest. The victim was beaten with a pistol, taken to the bathroom and tied up. The thieves stole jewellery and cash.

A year earlier, a 45-year-old woman was working at the Dhesi Jewelers on Airport Rd. when two people — one wearing a police uniform — sounded the front buzzer. They said they were conducting a police investigation before forcing her to the basement. When she came up, she discovered her store had been ransacked.

Two weeks ago, three people were arrested for both robberies.

But that’s small comfort to the jewellers who are not convinced police are doing enough to catch the criminals and recover their jewellery. Khalid estimates he has lost $1 million and doesn’t have insurance because it’s difficult to get coverage in his type of business.

His son-in-law says, if police can’t crack a case quickly, thieves are “going to melt all the gold into something that unrecognizable and sell it.”

In the meantime, some jewellers have taken to varying their hours to throw off would-be thieves conducting surveillance.