A former senior member of Canada’s spy agency says the killing of Canadian citizen Kirk Woodman is a “shot fired” across the bow of other mining companies operating in West Africa – a region that could see exploration grind to a halt in the wake of his death.
Mr. Woodman was abducted on Jan. 15 by a dozen gunmen on a mining site owned by Vancouver-based Progress Minerals near the border with Niger, an area that the government says is under growing threat from armed jihadis.
A spokesman for Burkina Faso’s security ministry confirmed on Thursday that Mr. Woodman had been found dead.
Andrew Ellis, former assistant director of operations for CSIS, said Mr. Woodman’s death is a wake-up call “for all the other mineral extraction companies in Canada working in the region.”
Mr. Ellis, president of Ellis Global Risk Assessment, said Mr. Woodman’s death was avoidable, saying companies have a duty of care to keep their employees safe.
According to his LinkedIn page, Mr. Woodman was vice-president of exploration for the company.
Progress Minerals issued a statement on Thursday afternoon and said the company is “heartbroken” by the tragic loss of Mr. Woodman, who was kidnapped from its exploration camp in Tiabongou.
The security ministry said Mr. Woodman’s body was found with bullet wounds 100 kilometres from his worksite.
“Kirk was an incredibly accomplished and highly respected geologist with a career spanning over 30 years, with 20 years spent in West Africa,” Progress Minerals chief executive Adam Spencer said.
Mr. Spencer said the company “will not make additional comments surrounding the circumstances of his death” out of respect for Mr. Woodman’s family.
Chris Roberts, a political science instructor at the University of Calgary, said Mr. Woodman’s death will affect mining investment and exploration of smaller mining companies that don’t have established mines and extensive security.
“The ongoing exploration work … it might grind to a halt in the short run,” Mr. Roberts said.
Unlike the established and fully secured gold mines in the country run by Iamgold and SEMAFO, Mr. Roberts explained, Progress Minerals was working on an exploration project on property licensed by Australian-listed firm Predictive Discovery.
So far, no group has taken responsibility for the attack, but the country has faced increased insecurity as a result of several jihadi groups.
Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency on Dec. 31 in some of its northern provinces, as attacks carried out by jihadi militants have increased in areas bordering Mali. But according to a recent report from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, while insecurity is heightened in the north, it’s also increased in the east.
The report says that extremist groups have aligned themselves with existing criminal networks and have begun “overtly controlling artisanal gold mining sites and occupying territory – running hours-long fake checkpoints to conduct identity checks in search for military and security personnel, and state employees.”
The report also notes that few attacks attributed to militants are claimed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with Mr. Woodman’s family by phone Thursday.
“It is a very, very sad situation and as I said to his family, his family has the sympathy of our whole country,” she told reporters in Sherbrooke, Que., where the cabinet is meeting for a three-day retreat.
On Friday, Ms. Freeland and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau will meet in person with the family of Edith Blais, another Canadian who recently disappeared in Burkina Faso. Ms. Blais is from Sherbrooke and federal officials said her case is being treated as a kidnapping.
Mr. Woodman’s family said in a statement that he was a “loving and hard-working husband, father, son and brother.”
“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,” reads the statement provided to The Globe and Mail by Mr. Woodman’s son Matt, a CTV reporter based in Edmonton.
With files from Bill Curry and the Associated Press.