Frequently Asked Questions


The following are answers to frequently asked questions.

1. Is Syria safe to travel in?

At the time of Nicole's trip, the Lonely Planet stated: “Syria is an extraordinarily safe country in which to travel, and foreign women are generally treated with courtesy and respect”.

As a result of Nicole's disappearance, the 2009 guidebooks instead state: "While Syria is a very safe country for female travelers, the disappearance of a solo female traveler who was staying in Hama in 2007 serves to highlight the dangers of traveling alone in any country." Despite what Syria’s reputation may be politically, foreigners are generally treated very well and the Syrians will go out of their way to make people feel welcome.

2. Is Nicole politically active/Arabic/Jewish?
  No.  Nicole has no interest in politics and has no Arabic or Jewish ancestry.
3. Could Nicole have decided to disappear on purpose, perhaps because she met someone?
  No. She would never leave her journals or her camera memory sticks (with all her photos) behind. She has never suffered from depression. She is very happy with her relationship with Gary. Her brother was with her two weeks before she disappeared and she was very content, looking forward to coming home soon. Her journals reveal nothing out of the ordinary.
4. Have you contacted the Embassy/Ambassador?
  The family have met personally with both the Canadian Ambassador to Syria as well as the Syrian Ambassador to Canada.
5. Have you tried using psychics or other paranormal methods of searching?
  People are welcome to attempt to find Nicole using these methods and then pass the information along to the family or the police.  Incidental information that is required for such searches will be provided.  This kind of assistance will not be paid for.
6. Have you tried using dogs?
  Investigation into the use of dogs began at the seven-week point (no one had really suggested it before then). After speaking with experts it was determined that by the time the appropriate people and animals could get to the site, too much time would have passed to do much more than maybe determine whether Nicole visited a certain place. Given the cost and likelihood of an unreadable or meaningless result (does "they can't find her" mean she wasn't there, or just that the scent is gone?), it was decided not to pursue.
7. Have you tried using spy satellite images?
  Unfortunately, even if they existed, spy satellite images are not generally made available for such purposes. Also, Canada does not have spy satellites. And despite what movies indicate, the quality of images is not quite as clear or as complete as what might be needed. Further information to the contrary would be welcome.
8. Have you tried private investigators?
  Private Investigators are very expensive and there is a significant risk of spending a lot of money with no results. Only investigative teams that have solid experience in the Middle East including Arabic speakers, relationships with the police and government, and the ability to get into and work in Syria (visas are not given to everyone) would qualify. They would also need to demonstrate an ability to go beyond what the Syrian police and others can do.  Due to the nature of their work it would also not be possible to disclose to the public if a private investigator was engaged to work on the case.
9. Have you checked with rental car agencies?
  There are not a lot of rental car agencies in Syria and even fewer foreigners who rent cars and might have used one to pick up Nicole. The Syrian authorities have been requested to investigate this.
10. Have you spoken with your local MP/MPP?
  The family has sent letters to members of parliament in both Vancouver and Toronto. The MPs have forwarded concerns to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Canada. Various other MPs and former MPs with experience in the area have also been contacted.
11. Have you posted to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message forums?
  We have posted a message to the Syria forum, the Missing Persons forum, as well as the forums for many of the countries surrounding Syria.  Many of these posts were made in early May when we began the search, so could be a bit difficult to find now.
12. Have you posted to this <travel website/blog/media outlet/Facebook page>?
  We posted messages to many different websites early on in our search, but we're always trying to continue spreading the word.  One of the best ways for people to help us is to post a link to this website wherever they think is appropriate.  Each link that is posted by someone else is a bit less work for us, and that’s really appreciated.
13. Have you created a Facebook Group?
  We have.  It is called “Nicole Vienneau is Missing in Syria”.  There are also some additional groups such as “Find Nicole Vienneau” that have been created by other users - searching on “Vienneau” will likely find them all.  If you find more such groups, let us know and we'll join them as well.
14. Have you checked local hospitals and morgues?
  Morgues are contained within hospitals and the Syrian police have checked all the hospitals.  The hospitals have an incentive to report foreigners in order to get paid for their services.
15. Have you checked the jails and prisons? Does the Syrian government have her?
  The Syrian authorities would notify the Canadian embassy if a Canadian were being detained. Given the great expense and effort that the Syrian government is dedicating to search for Nicole and accomodate our requests, including very public messages being sent out across Syria, it is hard to believe that they could secretly be holding her somewhere. Nicole was not political and knew to avoid trouble, so the Syrian authorities would be sure to advise the embassy if she were being detained. On the very remote chance that she may be in a prison anonymously, the Syrians have repeatedly been requested to re-check their information.
16. How do you know she wasn't smuggled out of the country?
  We don't. But without any information to the contrary, searching adjoining countries expands the search immensely. The Syrians have very tight border controls so the best option is to assume she is in Syria until other evidence suggests she is not. Should she be in Lebanon or Iraq, the two most likely candidates, there is very little that could be done to search there given the political situations in those countries. All countries have been advised to be on the lookout for her through Interpol.
17. I would like to help out by contacting a television show and trying to interest them in doing a report on Nicole. Is that okay?
  Absolutely. The more media coverage the better. It can often be difficult to attract the attention of the bigger shows, especially outside Canada where it's more difficult to find a "hook" for local viewers. A sample of a letter that could be sent to these shows is provided on the web site here Sample letter to TV Show.
18. Why didn't Nicole use the Internet access offered at the Cairo Hotel?
  It was cheaper to go down the street and Nicole was always careful with her pennies while on long trips. There was also more privacy at the Internet Cafe. The Cairo Hotel manager confirmed she did not use their computer for this reason.
19. Could something have happened at the Internet Cafe?
  .It is possible, but does not seem likely. The Cafe is below street level - you go down a flight of stairs to a covered courtyard that connects to some construction (in May 2007 at least), abandoned shops and the Cafe. It is visible from the street, and there are a large number of people in the Cafe (dozens) so it seems very unlikely something happened to Nicole without making a scene. It is also only 2-3 blocks back to the Hotel via main streets.
20. The Cairo Hotel offers tours.  Could Nicole have taken a tour with them that day?
  We do not believe Nicole took one of the Cairo Hotel tours.  Nicole does not like organized tours - she prefers to explore on her own and interact with locals by taking the bus and so on.  She also prefers to keep expenses down.  The Cairo Hotel manager also confirmed that she did not use their tours.