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Slain Canadian volunteers honoured at memorial services in Burkina Faso

The service at the morgue was attended by about a dozen nuns and villagers, who remembered how the Quebeckers had helped them with local charity work.

Wouter Elsen/The Globe and Mail

One by one, the bodies were carried from the morgue and lowered gently into coffins. Each time, the nuns and villagers rose to their feet, taking a final look at the Canadian friends who had died for their love of this African nation.

Some wept. Some took photos. Others just paid a silent farewell to the six Quebec volunteers who had touched hearts in Burkina Faso's capital and in several of its small villages.

The bodies of the six slain Canadians are expected to be flown out of Burkina Faso on Tuesday, the first stage in what could be a two-day journey home.

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The Canadians, including four from the same Quebec family, were among 30 people killed in a terrorist attack on a popular restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou on Jan. 15. Three attackers were killed after an all-night siege and a radical Islamist militia affiliated with al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility.

The Canadian victims were honoured twice on Monday: first at a national memorial service for all victims, attended by Burkina Faso's highest political and religious leaders, and later at a small Catholic service at the morgue.

The morgue workers struggled to make room for the six coffins in their limited floor space, where they normally deal with smaller numbers of dead.

The service at the morgue was attended by about a dozen nuns and villagers, who remembered how the Quebeckers had helped them with local charity work. Among those attending were Canadian nuns who have lived in Burkina Faso for nearly two decades, along with several women from the village of Manni, where the Quebec volunteers had been working in gardens and schools in their final days before the terrorist attack.

The villagers, wearing headscarves and small wooden crosses around their necks, wept as the bodies were lowered into caskets. Most of the bodies were swaddled in white cloth, but some had faces visible. Canadian diplomats and Burkina Faso soldiers photographed the bodies to verify the process. Then the coffins were sealed for the long journey home.

The Canadian volunteers were on "a quest to relieve other people's pain," said the local priest, François de Sales Nare, who led the service in the morgue.

"Six people, who were just visiting our country, found death because some people have stone and iron in place of their hearts," he told the service.

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"These people loved us, and in their search for a brotherly love, they found a horrible death."

At the end of the service, the priest sprinkled holy water on the coffins, and the nuns and villagers queued up to do the same.

"For us, this was a chance for a last farewell, a last tribute," said Sister Irène Gosselin, supervisor of the nuns at the Congrégation des soeurs de Notre-Dame de Perpétuel Secours, the Catholic mission that hosted the Quebec volunteers.

"It was very comforting for us," she said after the service. "It was a recognition of people who came here to work with us, to work with the Burkina Faso people who are like brothers to us. We feel that we were privileged to see the bodies today."

The slain Canadians were retired school principal Yves Carrier; his wife, Gladys Chamberland; his daughter, Maude Carrier; his 19-year-old son, Charlelie Carrier; and two family friends, Louis Chabot and Suzanne Bernier.

Earlier on Monday, at a national memorial ceremony in a central square of Ouagadougou, the Canadians and other victims from 11 nations were honoured by a military band, parades of national guardsmen, speeches by top politicians, flag marches and a national minute of silence.

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Luc Pincince, a senior Canadian diplomat here, spoke to the ceremony on behalf of the foreign victims of the attack. He said he spoke "with a mixture of emotions: sadness and compassion, but also anger and incomprehension at these unspeakable and unjustifiable acts of barbarism."

He said the Canadians and other foreigners had come to Burkina Faso with "smiles" and "expertise" to help its poorest and weakest citizens and to build a country "where life is good." They were warmly welcomed in Burkina Faso, but then "monsters emerged from the darkness to take their lives."

Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré said the terrorists "want to impose their law" on the country. "But we will resist and defeat them," he told the crowd. "We will not surrender to any pressure. We will show our commitment to live in a peaceful democratic Burkina Faso."

The victims were also honoured by ordinary citizens in marches and vigils on the weekend. At one candlelight vigil on Saturday night, the participants sipped cups of coffee – a symbolic and defiant homage to the Cappuccino restaurant, where most of the victims were killed.

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More


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