A 69-year-old man from B.C. says he still feels safe in Mexico despite being shot in the leg while walking from his hotel to a local plaza while on vacation Monday afternoon.
Mike Di Lorenzo of Penticton, B.C. was hit by a stray bullet in Mazatlan, a city in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa.
Mexican police say the gunmen were trying to hit a man riding a motorcycle, when two bystanders were injured. The man on the motorcycle was killed.
Di Lorenzo, who is recovering in a local hospital, said despite the violence and the fact he was hit just four blocks from his hotel, “I feel safe here.”
When asked if he had a message for family and friends back home, Di Lorenzo told CTV News Channel: “I’m in very good hands here. I’ve been having help…I didn’t know that they had so many good people, so many friendly people, nice people.”
His doctor said the bullet went right through Di Lorenzo’s leg, causing a fracture just above the knee that required surgery. Di Lorenzo has needed two blood transfusions, but he may be released from hospital before Monday.
Di Lorenzo said he and his wife, who was not injured in the incident, were approaching the plaza when he heard the gunshots.
“My first instinct is to push my wife down to safety on the side of a little concrete wall,” he said. “After that I fell, and I didn’t know I was shot.”
The couple was approached by another Canadian tourist, who called an ambulance when she saw that Di Lorenzo was bleeding.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs website advises against non-essential travel to Sinaloa state, as it is located in a part of Mexico where “shootouts, attacks and illegal roadblocks may occur at any time.”
Additionally, Ottawa warns that foreign residents and tourists have been injured in drug-related violence in Sinaloa and Canadians “should be particularly aware of their surroundings” as a result.
One expert on travel to Mexico says that although Canadians can ask for consular assistance when they run into trouble in foreign countries, “travellers have to do their own homework” when heading to regions known for violence or corruption.
“They’re the ones who have to deal with everything local that’s happening,” said Gabor Forgacs, an assistant professor at Toronto’s Ted Rogers School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.
“Laws, legislation are different in that country, law enforcement might be different. There are (also) language issues, cultural issues.”
Ottawa prods Mexico to probe allegations
News of the B.C. man’s shooting comes amid allegations from an Ontario woman who says she was gang-raped by police in another part of Mexico earlier this month.
Rebecca Rutland and her fiance, Richard Coleman, say they were arrested in the Yucatan Peninsula resort city of Playa del Carmen on New Year’s Eve. She alleges that she was sexually assaulted by two police officers in a local jail after being arrested.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alain Cacchione said Ottawa is “very concerned” about the allegations and Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, has spoken with the Mexican ambassador about the case.
“We welcome the Government of Mexico’s investigation into these allegations, and we expect a thorough and transparent investigation and a timely resolution to this case,” Cacchione wrote in an email to CTV.ca on Tuesday.
Cacchione said he could not provide further details due to privacy concerns, but said “Canadian officials are providing all possible consular assistance.”
Asked about the case on Tuesday, Cannon said “we have asked the Mexican ambassador to not only look at (this case) but we’ve asked him to set an inquiry in place. We take these allegations very seriously.”
Mexican authorities have said Rutland and Coleman were arrested after getting into a fight while intoxicated.
A release from the Embassy of Mexico in Ottawa says “an investigation by the authorities of Quintana Roo state is ongoing in order to determine whether a crime was committed and, if it is the case, prosecute and punish whoever is responsible.”
The woman’s father, Barry Rutland, said he doesn’t have faith in the Mexican investigation into his daughter’s claims, accusing authorities there of denying any wrongdoing before the probe is complete.
Barry Rutland also accused Ottawa of “not being able to take care of Canadians abroad.”
Liberal consular affairs critic Dan McTeague has said “the concern here is to get to the bottom of what transpired and to ensure that the investigation is thorough.”
McTeague urged the Mexican government to allow the RCMP to participate in the investigation.
Police officer recovering from beating
The alleged incident involving the Ontario couple follows the beating of a Montreal police officer in a Cancun bar earlier this month.
The unidentified male constable was vacationing with a group of fellow police officers in Playa del Carmen in early January.
On the evening of Jan. 8, the group of officers decided to take a trip out to a bar in Cancun, about an hour’s drive away.
The constable got separated from his friends and was later found at the back of the bar, where he lay after being severely beaten.
Mexican police initially said the officer was injured in a bar fight, but Montreal police have said they are investigating the incident.
The unidentified officer has since returned to Canada and is recovering from his injuries.
The resort areas in Quintana Roo — the state where Cancun and Playa del Carmen are located — are some of Mexico’s most popular tourist draws.
An official Mexico tourism website says the state offers “the beautiful waters of the Caribbean sea, top-notch tourist resorts, white-sand beaches, marvelous ecological reserves and ancient Mayan ruins.”
According to tourism statistics released by the Mexican government, more than 500,000 people visited Cancun-area beaches in the first six months of last year.
With files from The Canadian Press