The common-law spouse of the man responsible for killing 22 people in April’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia has been charged with providing the gunman with ammunition he used during the rampage, but police say she and two relatives who are also charged did not know how it would be used.
Lisa Diana Banfield, 52, of Dartmouth is alleged to have unlawfully transferred .223-calibre Remington cartridges and .40-calibre Smith & Wesson cartridges between March 17 and April 18, 2020.
James Blair Banfield, 64, of Beaver Bank, N.S., and Brian Brewster, 60, of Lucasville, N.S., are also facing the same charge under Section 101 of the Criminal Code.
RCMP would not comment on the relationship between Lisa Banfield and the two men. CBC News has learned the men are the older brother and brother-in-law of Lisa Banfield.
RCMP said in a news release Friday that the three had “no prior knowledge of the gunman’s actions on April 18 and 19.”
That weekend, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 neighbours, acquaintances and strangers in several communities in rural Nova Scotia while masquerading as an RCMP officer.
He torched his own cottage and garage, and three other homes over a 13-hour period before being shot dead by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., after a lengthy search.
RCMP say the ammunition was purchased in Nova Scotia.
On Friday, Lisa Banfield’s lawyer declined to comment on the charge.
History of domestic violence
Banfield is suing Wortman’s estate, which was initially valued at more than $1.2 million. In her statement of claim, which was filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, she said she was the victim of an assault and battery, and she suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries and trauma. In June, she also renounced her right to be the executor of his will.
There is a separate proposed class-action lawsuit against the gunman’s estate that alleges it is liable to the families of the victims who lost their lives or those who were injured due to his actions.
Several people told investigators that the gunman had a history of violence and was abusive, according to search warrant documents. A woman who used to live in Portapique said in 2013 she reported to RCMP that the denturist had illegal weapons and had tried to strangle Banfield.
Brenda Forbes said she’s never heard what happened to her complaint. But she said RCMP officers told her at the time that since she didn’t have photos of the weapons and Banfield had not lodged a complaint, they were limited in what they could do.
The day the rampage started, Wortman and Banfield were celebrating their anniversary, according to the court documents.
The couple worked together and lived above Wortman’s denture clinic on Portland Street in Dartmouth and spent time at the cottage they shared in Portapique.
Banfield has never spoken publicly about what happened in April.
RCMP have said the violence started when the gunman attacked and restrained her. She escaped and later told investigators she initially hid in a truck before spending hours in a wooded area in Portapique before knocking on a neighbour’s door around 6 a.m., according to a summary of interviews she gave RCMP.
All three accused are scheduled to be arraigned in Dartmouth provincial court on Jan. 27.
Illegal weapons used
Investigators have previously said they don’t believe the gunman had a firearms licence.
Police have never released the exact type of weapons Wortman used in the rampage, but they’ve said he obtained pistols and rifles illegally. Three came from the U.S. and one came from the estate of someone he knew in Canada.
Through an access-to-information request, The National Post learned Wortman used two semi-automatic rifles and two pistols in the rampage. The details were revealed in briefing notes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Wortman also took the service pistol belonging to Const. Heidi Stevenson, who he killed in Shubenacadie.
On Friday, RCMP declined to answer questions about the charges, the first laid in relation to the mass shootings.
“To ensure a fair trial for those who have been charged and with the public inquiry now ongoing, the most appropriate and unbiased opportunity to provide any additional information is to do so with our full participation in the inquiry,” said Supt. Darren Campbell in a statement.
The final report from a public inquiry is expected in November 2022.
Charges a ‘relief’ for families
Lawyer Robert Pineo, who is representing the families of the victims, said they are “relieved” about the charges.
“They’ve felt throughout that this was a major piece of the puzzle that was missing. Through circumstantial evidence and some information from the community, [they] have felt there was some involvement beyond the killer himself,” said Pineo. “So this information has helped put their minds at ease, to a point.”
His clients are involved in two class-action lawsuits: one against the killer’s estate, and one against the province and the RCMP for the police response during the tragedy.
Pineo said his clients feel like the RCMP haven’t been “open at all” throughout their investigation.
“There has been sporadic communication with the families, but usually nothing of substance, as far as who’s being investigated, what avenues are being investigated — even information about their own deceased family members has been lacking,” he said. “So the more information that comes forward, the more relief they feel.”
Michael Arntfield, a criminologist at Western University in London, Ont., agreed there has been little information provided throughout the investigation.
“That’s their prerogative, but [the new charges] provides some reassurance that investigation now has been confirmed to have been underway behind the scenes, and that people who aided and abetted Mr. Wortman will have to answer to that,” he said.
Arntfield suspects more charges could be laid. He said there are still many unanswered questions about things like the gunman’s mocked-up police vehicle and how he was able to obtain his illegal weapons.
“These latest charges show that Wortman was not a one-man operation and he relied on accessories,” Arntfield said. “There’s just too many moving parts for him to have pulled this off unassisted.”
He said the decision to charge the gunman’s common-law spouse is “going to be fraught with problems.”
On one hand, he said it’s clear that Banfield had knowledge of Wortman’s weapons and police regalia, but on the other, “you have a documented victim of domestic violence who, obviously, wouldn’t feel safe necessarily disclosing this to the police.”
“Her role as a stakeholder was identified by the police as only a victim, and now it seems there’s been an about-face on that,” said Arntfield. “So, what we’re missing is the pieces in between that would confirm why that change was deemed necessary.”