Montreal

Montrealer killed in Burkina Faso attack 'wanted to make a difference'

A veterinarian by training in his native Algeria, Bilel Diffalah had expertise in food safety and was in Burkina Faso as a volunteer with the Uniterra program run jointly by the Centre for International Cooperation and Studies and the World University Service of Canada.

Bilel Diffalah and Tammy Chen, 2 Canadians killed in attack, both had Montreal links

Montreal resident Bilel Diffalah, pictured in Burkina Faso in February. (Facebook/Bilal Diffalah)

Montrealer Bilel Diffalah, one of two Canadians killed Sunday when gunmen opened fire on a restaurant in the capital of Burkina Faso, was in the West African country because "he wanted to make a difference," says the director of the volunteer program he was representing.

A veterinarian by training in his native Algeria, Diffalah had expertise in food safety and was in Burkina Faso as a volunteer with the Uniterra program operated jointly by the Centre for International Cooperation and Studies and the World University Service of Canada.

Odette McCarthy, director of the Uniterra program, said the 41-year-old had been volunteering as a hygiene and biosecurity advisor with a local poultry organization since November.

"He expressed his wish to make a difference ... and that's why he wanted to go to Burkina Faso," she told CBC News.

Diffalah was one of 28 volunteers with the Canadian program in Burkina Faso and McCarthy said his killing was the first such loss for her organization in more than 50 years.

Adopted Canada, celebrated its diversity

McCarthy described Diffalah as "very sociable, very lively" and someone who loved people and entertaining. His Facebook page features numerous posts about food and travel. Others celebrate Canada and the country's diversity.

Diffalah had moved to Canada from Algeria five years ago and was a Canadian citizen.

In a news release, CICS and WUSC said Diffalah's death was confirmed Monday around noon after a frantic effort to locate him. All of its other volunteers are said to be safe.

Bilal Diffalah, far left, was a volunteer with a poultry organization in Burkina Faso. (Facebook/Bilal Diffalah)
"He was very devoted and appreciated by both his teammates and partners," the program's country co-ordinator, Fatimata Lankoande, said in the news release.

Second Canadian also had Montreal links

Tammy Chen, a former Toronto teacher, also died in the attack on the Aziz Istanbul restaurant. Chen studied both geography and education at Montreal's McGill University, graduating in 2007 with a Quebec teaching licence.

Tammy Chen studied geography and education at McGill University and was in Burkina Faso for field work related to her PhD studies at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. (CCSF)
She was working on her PhD at Cambridge University in England and was in Burkina Faso for field work related to her studies focusing on intergenerational poverty and women.

Her Cambridge University profile says she was president and co-founder of a non-profit organization called Bright Futures of Burkina Faso. The Canadian-registered charity "supports education and micro-lending initiatives in urban and rural communities in Burkina Faso," the profile reads.

Six Quebecers, including a family of four, were killed in Burkina Faso in 2016 when four jihadist attackers linked to al-Qaeda stormed a hotel and nearby cafe in the capital, Ouagadougou.

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