Renee Wathelet quit her job as an investment counsellor and moved to the island paradise of her dreams—Isla Mujeres, Mexico—last May. Every morning, she would sit on the sandy beach, listening to waves and thinking about her friends back home in Montreal. It was exactly how the 60-year-old grandmother wanted to spend her twilight years.
Last week, she was found dead in her condo, her throat slit and her body stabbed multiple times.
Wathelet is the latest victim in a string of violent crimes committed against Canadians in Mexico. Three B.C. men were shot, one fatally, in Cabo San Lucas this year. In 2006, Ontario couple Domenic and Nancy Ianiero were murdered at a luxury resort near Playa del Carmen. At least two other Canadians have died under suspicious circumstances in the country in the last three years.
Mexico is in the middle of a massive drug war that has led to mass murders, decapitations of police officers, and shootings that have spilled into tourist destinations. But travel operators and the Canadian government still say the country is a safe place for tourists. Denise Brown, director of the Latin American Studies program at the University of Calgary, agrees. She says over a million Canadians travel to Mexico every year—so while any death is terrible, six aren’t very frightening, statistically speaking.
Still, there are steps you can take to stay safe. Brown says that Canadians tend to let their guard down in Mexico, something people should avoid in any foreign country. “We feel kind of like it’s home. What happens when you’re at home is that you may be a little bit less wary, a little bit less careful, a little bit more trusting.”
Sometimes tragedy simply can’t be avoided, says Brown, but the best way to stay safe is to simply be cautious. “When you’re in a foreign country, you have to be extra careful—with who you’re talking to, with who you’re drinking with, because you’re not a local.”