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A tourist sunbathes at the resort city of Cancun, Mexico. File photo 2009.

Israel leal/AP

The attack on Calgarian Sheila Nabb in her five-star hotel in Mazatlan, Mexico may prompt the boldest of vacationers to reconsider their winter getaways. The incident left Ms. Nabb so disfigured she will require facial reconstruction.

This story received heightened publicity not only because of the assault's horrific nature, but because all incidents of violence against Canadians in Mexico are covered extensively.

However, this fact alone does not make the country more dangerous than other popular sunny destinations – or indeed other parts of the world. The odds of Canadian visitors to Mexico being assaulted or killed are about 2.1 per 100,000, based on data from 2005-2009. That is lower than in Jamaica (3.6 per 100,000), India (7.5 per 100,000), South Africa (5 per 100,000) and Russia (3.2). It is slightly higher than Cuba (1.5 per 100,000) and the Dominican Republic (1.6).

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Context is important, and there is no doubt that Mexico has a growing problem with violence, fuelled by the assault on the drug cartels launched by President Felipe Calderon in 2006. Homicide rates have increased as drug cartels battle one another to control the lucrative distribution networks to the U.S. market. About 50,000 people have died in drug violence in five years. But much of this violence is localized. Almost 80 per cent of all homicides connected to organized crime took place in just 6 per cent of the country's municipalities, according to the government's latest information, and most victims are Mexicans associated with crime. Parts of Mexico – Yucatan, southern Baja California and Quintana Roo – remain untouched by the drug war.

No wonder Canadians continue to travel to Mexico in enormous numbers – 1.6 million last year – attracted by the all-inclusive resorts, pristine beaches and pre-Hispanic ruins.

A few unlucky travellers will still be victims of crime, as happened to a man from British Columbia who was hit by a stray bullet in Mazatlan over the New Year, or of accidents such as last year's gas explosion at a hotel in Playa del Carmen, which left five Canadians dead. When such terrible events occur, Canadians may be disappointed to find that police and other agencies aren't always as professional and efficient as their counterparts back home.

But this doesn't change the reality that the odds of being assaulted or killed in Mexico are still relatively low, and that drug traffickers are not interested in tourists – except as paying customers.

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