November 8, 2021
For the first time, Canada has released a full country-by-country list of Canadians murdered abroad.
Over the last five years, almost 200 Canadians have been murdered while travelling outside the country — cases ranging from drug-related shootings to extortion kidnappings and the opportunist killings of innocent tourists drawn to the seductive tropics.
More Canadians are murdered in Mexico than in any other country. The potential dangers were illustrated as recently as last week on Mexico’s Caribbean coast near Cancun. Tourists ran for cover from gunfire when commandoes wearing ski masks arrived by boat and assassinated two men from a rival drug gang.
Until now, Global Affairs Canada has cited the privacy of the victims, insisting that the public had no right to information on the specific countries in which all these crimes occurred.
Following a successful access-to-information appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, the federal government has changed its position.
Global News is the first to release this new data.
Canada now accepts that the public does, in fact, have a right to the information. Simply releasing the fact that a Canadian has been murdered in a specific country does not identify the victim.
From the initial access-to-information request, it took well over two years before the information was recently released.
Global Affairs Canada still refuses to release more specific details, including the communities in which the murders occurred or the circumstances surrounding the crimes.
A University of Ottawa law professor who helped with the appeal finds it troubling that Canada resisted the release of the information for so long and urges the government to go further in providing timely information on Canadians murdered abroad.
Michel Drapeau, author of two books on information and privacy legislation, says the greater right to know takes precedence. “In a democracy, it’s a question of public interest and public safety.”
Drapeau said he will leave it to the public to decide whether diplomatic reasons and not just privacy concerns influenced Canada’s initial refusal to release the information.
To make good travel decisions, Canadians need to know where others have been murdered, Drapeau says. COVID-19 has shown the value of informing Canadians of hot spots that should be avoided during the deadly global pandemic, he added.
Global Affairs Canada reports it is aware of 191 Canadians murdered abroad over the past five years in a total of 63 countries.
The number includes 49 murdered in 2016; 45 in 2017; 39 in 2018; 31 in 2019; 27 in 2020.
The five top countries in which Canadians were murdered over that five-year period: 24 in Mexico; 20 in the United States; 15 in Jamaica; 11 in the Philippines; and 10 in the west African nation of Burkina Faso.
Other leading countries: seven in Dominican Republic; six each in Guyana, India and Pakistan; five each in Haiti, Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago, and four each in Belize and Barbados.
One Canadian was murdered in China over the five-year period — the same as Germany, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and Bolivia.
The government reported no Canadians were murdered in Russia during those five years.
Often, the murders of Canadians abroad can go unreported. Canada’s general policy is that it’s up to family and friends to decide to go public with the murder of loved ones.
Drapeau says it’s reasonable to leave out the names of murder victims, but says additional information would be valuable to Canadians travelling abroad, including whether the crime was random or targeted.
“Let us know. As an educated society, we want access to this information.”
Global Affairs Canada media relations declined an interview on the matter but issued a written statement to Global National saying each case has unique facts and circumstances.
To respect confidentiality and comply with obligations under the Privacy Act, Global Affairs Canada “takes the appropriate steps to remove direct and indirect information” that could identify individuals. The risk of compromising privacy increases when “datasets are small or are further broken down against other variables, such as by year and by location.”
“Given the low numbers for certain years and regions, providing more information would raise the possibility that individuals could be identified in certain cases.”
In sharp contrast, the U.S. Department of State publishes online the deaths of Americans abroad from non-natural causes. The data is regularly updated and provides date, location, and cause — not just homicides, but motor vehicle accidents, suicides, drownings, etc.
Global Affairs Canada would not commit to posting online information on Canadians murdered abroad in a timely fashion. “We continuously assess data and information … to determine their eligibility and priority, and facilitate planning for release.”
The Canadian government does provide a travel advisory website for Canadians that provides general information on levels of risk in nations around the world.
The advisory generally warns Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution in Mexico due to criminal activity and organized crime and suggests avoiding non-essential travel altogether to certain states such as Colima, except the city of Manzanillo.
The website offers a similar warning for Jamaica due to violent crime; it also warns of crime, terrorism, civil unrest and kidnapping in the Philippines.
Burkina Faso has experienced numerous violent attacks related to mining development. A geologist with Vancouver-based Progress Minerals working at a mine site near the border with Niger was kidnapped by armed men then killed in 2019. The Canadian government urges Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to the nation due to the threat of terrorism.
COVID-19 restricted global travel in 2020, resulting in fewer Canadians murdered abroad.
Cuba defied that trend. Four Canadians were murdered in the country in 2020 compared with none during the previous four years.
Two separate cases involved Quebec women brutally murdered in the tourist resort of Varadero — one reportedly stuffed in a suitcase in a landfill, the other buried on a beach.
In those cases, family members talked to the news media.
In tourism advertising, Cuba has specifically promoted itself as a safe destination for travellers.
Despite last year’s murders, Canada continues to consider Cuba a low risk: “Take normal security precautions.”
A similar advisory applies to the United States.
For further travel information, including on Canadian consular services, visit travel.gc.ca. Financial assistance for victims of crime abroad can also be found online.