Canadian found dead: Here’s what you need to know about travel to Belize

The deaths of Canadian Francesca Matus and her American boyfriend, Drew DeVoursney, in Belize are currently being investigated as homicides, and a security expert says travellers should exercise caution when visiting the tropical hot spot.

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The bodies of Matus, 52, of Markham, Ont., and DeVoursney, 36, from Georgia, were discovered Monday in a sugar cane field in the Corozal district and police say the cause of death appears to be strangulation.

DeVoursney’s mother says the American embassy told her that the pair was found with duct tape wrapped around their wrists.

WATCH: What we know about the Canadian found dead in Belize

Global Affairs Canada does not have a nationwide travel advisory in place for Belize, but advises on its website that Canadians “exercise a high degree of caution due to a high rate of violent crime throughout the country.”

“Criminal activity, including armed robbery, mugging and sexual assault, is a significant problem throughout Belize,” Global Affairs writes on its website. “Robberies and assaults have been reported in resort areas. There has been a noted increase in violent crime targeting tourists since the end of 2013.”

The agency advises visitors to stay in groups and ensure that personal belongings and travel documents are secure at all times. Tourists are also advised not to show “signs of affluence” and use taxis after dark instead of walking.

READ MORE: Most dangerous countries for Canadians to travel to include popular hot spots

Walter McKay, a former Vancouver police detective and security expert, says the country is relatively “quiet” and safe compared to its neighbours, like Mexico and Honduras.

“It is on the ocean so you’ll have connecting points for drugs and what not but it’s not a main transit point,” McKay said. “There is an uptick [in violent crimes] but in general there is an uptick all over Latin America.”

Belize (approximately 335,000 people) has the world’s third-highest homicide rate, with 44.7 homicides per 100,000 population, according to 2013 data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

READ MORE: Two teens charged in killing of Canadian found stabbed in Belize

By comparison, U.S. cities like Detroit had a rate of 43.5 in 2015 or Baltimore with a rate of 55.3 homicides per 100,000 people, according to 2015 FBI statistics.

McKay said following travel tips like avoiding bars after dark, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding unlicensed taxis can help you stay safe in Belize.

“Make sure you have enough money and don’t use an ATM,” he said. “If somebody is going to target you they know they will get money.”

McKay said while there are still few details in this case, drinking to excess can lead to personal injury or death in tourist destinations throughout Central America.

“It’s amazing that people go into a foreign country that they may or may not speak and drink as much as they can,” he said. “Go ahead and have fun, drink in moderation, and be aware of your surroundings.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also issued a health notice over concerns of the Zika virus in Belize, recommending that pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to the country.

Meanwhile, family and friends of Matus and DeVoursney are still coming to grips with the deaths of the couple who were last seen April 25 leaving a bar at night.

“I’m not able to really do anything, kind of just sit and think and cry and that’s all I’m capable of at the moment,” DeVoursney’s mother, Char, told the Canadian Press. She said her son was a former U.S. marine who had overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

Canadian and American expats had been scouring the area in the past week in a desperate search to find the couple.

“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the Canadian citizen who passed away in Belize. Consular services are being provided to the family during this difficult time,” Austin Jean, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, told Global News Tuesday.

“Canadian consular officials continue to liaise with local authorities to gather additional information.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

Weapon charges from 2 Saskatoon disturbances laid against man

Saskatoon police say a man discharged a pellet gun on Monday and he is also facing firearm-related charges for a disturbance this past weekend.

At around 7:50 p.m. CT on Monday, officers were called to an unknown problem at a residence in the 300-block of Avenue K South. Upon arrival, police discovered an altercation had taken place inside.

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    As a result, a 19-year-old man was charged with such offences as carrying a weapon dangerous to the public and reckless discharge of a firearm.

    READ MORE: Saskatoon police recover stolen car from Prince Albert with swords, drugs inside

    Police also identified him as being one of the individuals involved in an incident that occurred on April 30 in the 2200-block of 22nd Street West.

    Shortly before 3:30 p.m. CT on Sunday, witnesses reported seeing a man with a gun and being chased by two other men, one of whom was also armed with a firearm. Witnesses also indicated they heard a shot.

    Officers attended the scene but found no physical evidence of a gunshot or any of the involved parties.

    READ MORE: Over 150 charges laid in Saskatoon laundry room break-ins

    For this event, the 19-year-old man is also facing charges that include careless use of a firearm, possession a firearm obtained by crime and possession of a firearm contrary to a prohibition order.

    No injuries were reported by police.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact Saskatoon police at 306-975-8300 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Elementary school breakfast program brings students together 1 year after Fort McMurray wildfire

What was meant to provide kids with a full belly to start off their school day on the right foot has turned into so much more for students at a Fort McMurray elementary school one year after a devastating wildfire ripped through the community.

Dr. K A Clark Public School in Fort McMurray suffered extensive smoke damage in last May’s wildfire. Seven staff members and several students lost their homes.

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    READ MORE: ‘The Beast’ is still burning east of Fort McMurray 1 year later

    Staff and students were displaced for four months before returning to class in September 2016.

    “We serve two of the most affected neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray and we knew that a lot of our students lost their homes or were displaced from their homes long-term, so we really didn’t know how many we would expect on that first day of school,” said principal Merrie-Rae Mitropoulos.

    READ MORE: ‘We didn’t spend 12 years not to have one’: Fort McMurray high school grads go back to say goodbye

    The majority of the 400 students from the school returned in the fall, even those who moved away from the surrounding community.

    “We really saw the resiliency in our students,” Mitropoulos said. “This is the place where they have their friends, they know their teachers and we have a real sense of community here.”

    READ MORE: Fort McMurray children processing wildfire trauma: ‘I’m still not sleeping right’

    One year later, that sense of community is thriving, even before class starts. The school offers a breakfast program, providing a meal to about 80 students each morning. But the principal says it does much more than that.

    “Not only does it meet the needs of students that may not have breakfast at home or don’t have time for breakfast at home, it also meets that need of coming together, sitting with friends, having some time with the teacher and staff members who come in to visit and really spending that time together as a school community.”

    READ MORE: Feelings of hope, uncertainty one year after Fort McMurray wildfire

    The school started offering the breakfast program in 2015. Breakfast Club of Canada started providing funding for the program in January 2017, which included money for new dishes and supplies in order to offer a wider range of food options.

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

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WATCH: 1 year later, firefighters recall running towards ‘The Beast’ while thousands fled

On May 3, 2016, while tens of thousands of people fled Fort McMurray, hundreds went running in to begin to battle the wildfire now known as “The Beast.”

Christian Oberegger was in Week 5 of his firefighter recruit training when he got the call.

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    “We weren’t really set. We had wildland gear so I got out with a water pack and went into Beacon Hill and tried to put out a shed fire with a little water pack here… I thought I was going to get it, but we didn’t get it.”

    READ MORE: ‘Guys feel guilty’: emotional demons to slay after Fort McMurray wildfire

    Ed Grainger was at the gym downtown.

    “I remember thinking about Slave Lake and thinking about how insane that might have been. And then thinking about what would happen to our city, not fully understanding what was going to happen. And then it just showed up. Like it was out of a movie.”

    READ MORE: ‘These guys are working around the clock’: Alberta firefighters share what it’s like in Fort McMurray

    Ryan Pitchers had just started a day shift.

    “I had parts of my crew running around with garden houses putting out fence fires and deck fires as we were fighting the big house fires,” he said. “Everybody had the duty to do what they could to save what they could.”

    READ MORE: ‘I want us to recognize the true heroes’: Fire chief shares stories of heroism from Fort McMurray

    One year later, these men sat down with Global News to talk about some of the memories that stand out from that day and the wave of emotion that followed in the days, weeks and months after the wildfire.

    Watch below: Ongoing Global News coverage to mark one year since the Fort McMurray wildfire

    Fort McMurray wildfire one year later: hear from residents and the premier

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    Fort McMurray wildfire one year later: hear from residents and the premier

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Mayor Melissa Blake says businesses have ‘a long way to go’ to recover after wildfire

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1 year after Fort McMurray wildfire, no word on what caused ‘The Beast’

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Mayor Melissa Blake marks 1 year since Fort McMurray wildfire

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Premier Rachel Notley marks 1 year since Fort McMurray wildfire: ‘This is a very difficult day’

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Fort McMurray residents say sharing wildfire experience therapeutic

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Fort McMurray to mark one year since wildfire with day of activities

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Fort McMurray resident recalls fleeing wildfire with daughters on horseback

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Fort McMurray resident contemplated leaving after wildfire but ‘missed home’

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Fort McMurray mom talks about her ‘fire baby’ one year after wildfire