POLITICS

Quebecer vanishes while en route to dangerous U.S.-Mexican border crossing

04/01/2013 03:55 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Friends of a Quebec man who vanished while driving home through Mexico's dangerous north say they're confident they'll find him and bring him home.

Marc Menard has not been heard from in more than two weeks.

The 44-year-old husband and father was returning to Canada after a three-month stay in Mexico. He was driving a white Pontiac van with Quebec licence plates and was travelling with his basset hound, Maya.

His plan was to cross the U.S-Mexico border at the notoriously dangerous town of Nuevo Laredo, a haven of drug cartel violence. Friends say it's the route he'd mapped out, but there is no evidence he actually made it all the way to the volatile city.

Marc Morneau, a longtime friend of Menard's, said on Monday it's not characteristic of his friend, a bus driver in Laval, Que., to simply disappear.

"It's not like him," Morneau said. "He has a modest life in Quebec, but he had obligations here, taxes to pay, money in his account and a daughter who has been waiting for him."

Morneau said the last place Menard had contact with his family was Matehuala, about 500 kilometres south of the U.S.-Mexican border.

In Matehuala, there was a withdrawal from his bank account on March 12. Morneau says there was also at least one friend who had a Skype conversation with Menard on March 14.

"There might have been others, but the last one we're sure of was on the 14th," Morneau said. "He was in a hotel room, said he was on his way to the border and was hoping to get there soon."

Since then, there has been nothing but silence.

Morneau noted that his friend was travelling without a cellphone and speaks only minimal English and Spanish in addition to being fluent in French. He had a laptop that he used to communicate with relatives and friends.

"He was learning Spanish a little more each time he visited," said Morneau, adding that Menard had been making visits to Mexico since 2010.

Morneau wondered if Menard was being detained for some reason.

"If he is in a jail, then it's just a matter of going to find him," Morneau said. "The first step is to find him and then we'll be able to figure out how to get him out."

Menard is married, with an adult daughter, and has worked as a bus driver for more than 20 years. He was due back in Quebec on Tuesday and supposed to start working again this week.

Instead, Morneau said the man's employer was helping to raise funds to help find Menard in Mexico. A group made up of people who "know how things work in Mexico" and are fluent in Spanish are due to arrive there later in the week.

Morneau said the idea behind having people on the ground in Mexico is to see if potential sources of information will be more forthcoming face-to-face.

Close to 100,000 people have also visited a Facebook page with details about Menard's disappearance.

Morneau said information from official sources — Canadian and Mexican — has been limited.

"All we know from the (Canadian) embassy is that he didn't cross the border," Morneau said. "Nothing else is coming out of Mexico."

Amanda Reid, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs Department, said Canadian consular officials are dealing with Menard's family and friends in Canada. She said they are also trying to get more information from local authorities.

Foreign Affairs has an advisory for the area warning against non-essential travel "due to continuously high levels of violence linked to organized crime."

Menard had been going to Mexico yearly for the past few years, but always by plane and usually for shorter trips with a backpack. This time, he promised himself that he'd see it all, Morneau said.

Menard left for Mexico on Dec. 14. With celebrations surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar last December, Menard felt he had to be there. Some of the tattoos on his body were depictions of the calendar and pyramids.

"He was really a fanatic of Mayan culture," said Morneau. "This was the year to take a trip with the Mayans, so he promised himself he'd do a full trip and see everything."