Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers a statement concerning Kirk Woodman while entering a cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que. on Thursday, January 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Freeland condemns killers of Canadian mining executive found dead in Africa

HALIFAX — Canadian officials are condemning the killers of a Halifax mining executive praised as a much-loved family man and highly talented geologist with a knack for spotting producing mines.

Kirk Woodman, who worked for Vancouver-based Progress Minerals Inc., was found dead Wednesday in Burkina Faso’s Oudalan province.

He had been shot multiple times, Jean Paul Badoum, an official with the west African country’s Ministry of Security, said from the capital Ouagadougou.

The geologist had been kidnapped a day earlier by gunmen as he worked on a gold mining project, but officials have not yet identified the kidnappers, Badoum said.

Woodman was vice-president of exploration for Progress Minerals, according to his LinkedIn page.

“Kirk was a loving and hardworking husband, father, son and brother,” Woodman’s family said in a statement.

“Not a day will go by that he won’t be missed. Our family would like to thank everyone for the love and support we’ve received, but we ask for privacy while we grieve during this difficult time.”

David Duncan, a veteran exploration geologist and friend of Woodman, said he had the ability to tell whether a good prospect could become a producing mine, and was part of a wider community of Nova Scotia-trained geologists who helped find mines around the globe.

Although based in Halifax, he had worked in Africa for decades.

“He was very passionate about the work that he was doing there,” Acadia University professor Sandra Barr said in an email late Wednesday.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called Woodman’s killing a “terrible crime.”

“Canada is absolutely committed to working with the authorities in Burkina Faso to bring those responsible to justice. And I think our first thought today is with his family, with his friends who have received some really dreadful news.”

Badoum said no group had taken responsibility for the kidnapping.

The security ministry said Woodman’s body was found alone 100 kilometres from the site where he worked for Progress Minerals.

Woodman was kidnapped Tuesday night during a raid on a mining site in Tiabongou, about 20 kilometres from Mansila in Yagha province.

The prefect of the rural commune of Sebba in that province, Felix Ouedraogo, said the body of a white man riddled with bullets was transferred to a hospital in Dori by defence and security services.

Burkina Faso’s minister of foreign affairs, Alpha Barry, said the government “condemns with the utmost energy this cowardly assassination” and will do what it can to find and punish the killers.

In a statement, Progress Minerals said it was “heartbroken” by the loss.

“Kirk was an incredibly accomplished and highly respected geologist with a career spanning over 30 years, with 20 years spent in West Africa. More importantly, Kirk was a kind person, a dedicated father and husband and considered a friend by all who knew him,” said CEO Adam Spencer.

Werner Claessens, a geologist who worked with Woodman in Burkina Faso, said his friend had a deep concern for the people who lived in poor communities near where the mines operated.

He said in the days before the kidnapping Woodman had participated in exploratory drilling for rock samples, including an additional well that was used to create a water well for a small community.

“It was a gift for the village. These communities often don’t have access to water,” Claessens said.

“You have on the one hand these criminal acts, and on the other this social initiative. Life can be hard,” he said.

Duncan said he worked with Woodman on projects in Nova Scotia and overseas for more than four decades.

The pair worked for Etruscan Resources of Halifax on some of the first gold mines in Niger and then Burkina Faso — as part of a close-knit group of Canadian geologists who were pioneering the development of mines in western Africa.

After Duncan left in 2005, Woodman stayed on at Etruscan and firms that purchased its properties as their original discoveries were developed into operating gold properties.

“We were the up front guys, the go-in-first guys to see if there was anything there worthwhile,” said Duncan, recalling how they worked together on the Youga gold mine in Burkina Faso in the early 2000s.

He said working as an exploration geologist in western Africa always had its dangers, ranging from the risk of traffic accidents to contracting diseases such as malaria, but Duncan said in recent years the risk increased with the rise of Islamic militancy.

“It’s a terrible thing, a terrible thing. We understood since the Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler was kidnapped in Niger that part of the world had changed … with the introduction of Islamic fundamentalists into that part of the world,” he said.

“It’s gotten to be a much harder place… We were never worried about being kidnapped. Today, it’s a different world.”

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said many Haligonians knew and admired Woodman.

“The criminal death of Kirk Woodman in Burkina Faso is a tragedy beyond words,” he said in a tweet.

The news comes soon after a 34-year-old Quebec tourist and her travelling companion were reported missing in the west African nation.

Sherbrooke native Edith Blais and her Italian friend Luca Tacchetto were travelling by car in southwestern Burkina Faso when all communication with their families abruptly ended Dec. 15.

A statement by Security Minister Clement Sawadogo referred to the disappearance of Blais and Tacchetto as a kidnapping.

West Africa’s Sahel region has seen a number of abductions of foreigners in recent years by extremists linked to al-Qaida or the Islamic State organization.

Burkina Faso recently declared a state of emergency in the region as attacks by Islamic extremists increased, especially along the border with Niger and Mali.

Sawadogo said foreigners should use extreme caution when travelling in dangerous areas of the country.

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