POLITICS
10/11/2011 12:40 EDT | Updated 12/11/2011 05:12 EST

Mexico Pressured To Do More About Canadian Deaths By Feds

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MONTREAL - The federal government wants countries popular with sun-seeking tourists to do more to investigate crimes involving Canadian citizens.

Diane Ablonczy, the minister of state for foreign affairs, has just returned from a visit to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, two of the most common destinations for Canadian travellers.

She says she pressed officials in those countries to offer "timely and transparent investigations" of incidents where Canadians are victims of violent crime.

"We do have significant frustration on the part of some families that when their loved ones meet their death in another country nothing seems to be done to bring the perpetrator to justice," Ablonczy told The Canadian Press.

She added that it often appears that nothing is done to find the perpetrators in such cases.

"In some cases it is a matter of capacity," she said. "Some countries simply don't have the revenue or the capacity that we expect in Canada."

Several Canadians have been killed in Mexico in recent years as the country struggles with spiralling drug-related violence, and two Canadians have been killed in events in the Dominican Republic this year.

The destinations are hugely popular. In 2010, 1.6 million Canadians visited Mexico; 784,000 visited the Dominican Republic.

"To put it in perspective a very small percentage of Canadians run into difficulty, (and those who do) often they live in the country and engage in somewhat unwise activity," Ablonczy said.

"By far and away, most Canadians that travel to Mexico, or the Dominican ... really have a warm welcome from everyone there."

A recent report on Canada's consular activity would seem to back up at least some of those claims.

Despite the more than one million Canadian visitors to Mexico last year, consular officials handled only 450 emergency cases, which can include anything from legal troubles to medical issues.

The report also found that roughly 20 per cent of the Mexican cases centred around the arrest or detention of a Canadian visitor.

Consular officials in the Dominican handled fewer than 150 emergency cases.

Ablonczy indicated that officials in both countries were receptive to her concerns about what happens when Canadians are killed abroad.

She noted that it's in their interest to provide as secure an environment as possible — given that tourism accounts for such large portion of their GDP.

Calls to the Mexican and Dominican embassies Tuesday were not immediately returned.

A large part of Canada's foreign policy in Central and Southern America is centred around security concerns, particularly in terms of transnational crime.

Canadian police officers are active participants in training programs in several Latin American countries. The goal, says Ablonczy, is to increase the reliability of law enforcement.

"A lot of these countries are really making good gains in strengthening those justice institutions," she said. "But they do have a ways to go."

Mexico alone has received $4 million in aid from Ottawa since 2009 to boost its policing capacity amid a drug war that has rendered wide swaths of the country dangerous for visitors.

Indeed Ablonczy suggested Canadians travelling to both Mexico and the Dominican may want to avoid leaving the resort, or to travel only with tour groups.

But she said that shouldn't dissuade potential visitors, few of whom encounter trouble during their stay.