Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, participates in a question and answer session with Sean Finn, CN Executive Vice-President, Corporate Services and Chief Legal Officer, at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 4, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Federal ministers seek to reassure family of Canadian woman missing in West Africa

SHERBROOKE, Que. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday all indications are that a Canadian woman who has been missing in Burkina Faso for more than a month is still alive.

Fears for the well-being of 34-year-old Edith Blais of Quebec mounted this week with the killing of a Canadian mining executive in the West African country.

“As far as we know, she is,” Trudeau said when asked by a reporter whether Blais was still alive. He said Blais’ story has people across the country preoccupied. “Our hearts go out to the family of Edith Blais and the entire community,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau met earlier in the day with Blais’ mother and sister, who live in Sherbrooke, Que., where the Liberal cabinet held a retreat this week.

Trudeau said the ministers reassured the family that the federal government is engaged diplomatically and is seeking to learn more about her fate. “The government of Canada takes extremely seriously our responsibility to keep Canadians safe wherever they are,” he said.

Bibeau, visibly shaken after the meeting with Blais’ family, said it had been a conversation “between mothers. We talked a lot about Edith. Those are two extraordinary women who are very strong, and I believe they are reassured that our government is doing what has to be done in such circumstances.”

Blais’ mother and sister declined to speak to media before or after meeting the ministers.

Blais and her Italian friend Luca Tacchetto have not been heard from since Dec. 15. They were travelling by car in southwestern Burkina Faso en route to Togo, where they planned to do volunteer work with an aid group.

A statement Wednesday by Burkina Faso Security Minister Clement Sawadogo referred to the disappearance of Blais and Tacchetto as a kidnapping. The Canadian government has not confirmed the information, and Bibeau said only that it is not ruling out any possibilities.

The meeting came the day after another Canadian, Kirk Woodman, was found dead in northern Burkina Faso, close to the border with Mali and Niger. An executive with a Vancouver-based mining company, Woodman had been kidnapped a day earlier by gunmen as he worked on a gold mining project.

Blais and Tacchetto set off in his car on Nov. 20 from the northern Italian town of Vigonza, outside Padua. They travelled through France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania and Mali before arriving in Burkina Faso. They were last seen in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in the country’s southwest.

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