Canadian police are exasperated by a spate of disappearances of Chinese tourists, who are all believed to have fled from their tour groups in the Vancouver area.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said foul play is not suspected in any of the four cases of missing mainland tourists under investigation. However, police have been obliged to mount costly, time-consuming and so far fruitless searches for the apparent escapee tourists.
In the most recent case, a middle-aged woman was captured on CCTV sneaking out of her hotel with her luggage at 4am on February 19. A tour guide later realised that Feng Suqin, 52, was missing and called police.
The tour group, which had been attending a martial arts event, returned to China without Feng three days later.
The disappearances all occurred during package tour visits to Richmond, a satellite city of Vancouver. The missing tourists may have blended into the community in what is North America's only majority Chinese city.
"While foul play is not suspected in any of the incidents, it's concerning that tourists are being reported missing from tour groups," Corporal Sherrdean Turley, a spokeswoman for Richmond RCMP, said. "Considerable time and resources must be devoted to ensuring the well-being of these persons."
In another recent case, Chen Yanyun, 61, failed to board a shuttle bus outside her group's Richmond hotel on the morning of January 22 to catch their flight back to China. Her luggage was also missing, and her disappearance was called in to police by a tour guide that night, after the rest of the group had departed. Chen was last seen at the hotel the night before.
The RCMP said two other mainland tourists had gone missing in similar fashion in recent months, although it did not provide their names or other details of their cases. However, previous media reports identified a mainland couple who disappeared from a Richmond tour group on September 29 as Shi Tienan, 55, and Wu Liping, 47.
A Taiwanese tourist, Wu Shih Hsueh, 30, is also reported to have gone missing a week earlier.
An RCMP statement said that in each of the cases, officers had contacted the local Chinese consulate, the federal missing-persons unit, immigration authorities "and other foreign agencies" in an effort to locate the tourists. It also issued a public plea for assistance in tracking them down.
Chen was described as 1.57 metres tall and 41kg. No description of Feng or the other tourists was available, although passport photos of the four mainlanders were released.
Sergeant Cam Kowalski, also of Richmond RCMP, said the immigration status of the missing tourists was "irrelevant" to the seriousness accorded to the investigations. "We just need to make sure that they are safe and sound," he said on Monday.
"Whether they meet somebody, or they have family here, or they don't want to talk to immigration … all of those are things that we'd look into," he said, adding that "we cannot take them off our books" until police meet with them in person.
The Chinese consulate in Vancouver did not respond to a request for information regarding the disappearances.
Police have no reason to believe that the latest batch of missing tourists are in danger. But the case of another in Richmond last year had a tragic outcome.
Guangdong native Guo Lianjie, 47, disappeared on June 7, the day she and her husband had been due to return to China after visiting their student son. Her body was found stuffed in a suitcase that washed up three weeks later on a remote island more than 150km from Richmond.
Guo's only son, Tang Yuanxi, 25, has been charged with her murder, as well as plotting to have his grieving father killed.
According to census data, 50.2 per cent of Richmond's population of about 200,000 claim Chinese ethnicity, and the city's core districts are more than 80 per cent Chinese.