Inquiry into N.S. mass shooting says spouse of killer was revictimized by RCMP probe

·4 min read

HALIFAX — The final report of the public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting says the gunman’s partner — a survivor of his violent domestic abuse — was revictimized by the RCMP investigation into the tragedy.

Gabriel Wortman's rampage left 22 dead in April 2020 and began when he assaulted his partner, Lisa Banfield, who escaped and survived by hiding in the woods.

The inquiry's report released Thursday said the Mounties' treatment of Banfield during their investigation is an example of the kind of revictimization that makes it less likely that women survivors of gender-based violence will seek help from police. One of the report’s main findings is that “the RCMP did not treat Lisa Banfield as a surviving victim of the mass casualty.”

"It’s clear (that) for 19 years Lisa Banfield was abused by her spouse and it culminated on April 18, (2020),” inquiry commissioner Michael MacDonald said Thursday.

“We highlight that she was clearly the first victim, and our view, as stated in the report, is that she ought to have been immediately recognized as such.”

On the evening of April 18, 2020, Wortman beat Banfield and handcuffed her in the back of his replica police cruiser. He told her he would kill her if she tried to run away. He poured gasoline throughout the home they shared in Portapique, N.S., before lighting it and his warehouse on fire. Banfield pulled off one handcuff, injuring herself, and escaped through the front window and ran to nearby woods, where she hid overnight as temperatures dipped below zero.

At about 6:30 a.m. the next morning Banfield left the woods and sought help at the home of a neighbour, who helped her call the police, whom Banfield told about the assault and Wortman’s replica cruiser.

Banfield shared details about Wortman from the back of an ambulance just hours after he had violently assaulted her, but police failed to photograph her injuries or arrange for victim services to offer her support.

Inquiry commissioner Kim Stanton said Thursday that Banfield “was not appropriately debriefed as an injured person who had survived a night in the woods" and that she was not interviewed in a way that is acceptable for “someone with the kind of injuries she had and the experience that she had had.”

The report also suggests that the details Banfield shared immediately after leaving the woods — including that the gunman was driving a replica cruiser with stripe decals, RCMP logos, a light bar and siren — did not appear to be taken seriously by police.

During his testimony before the inquiry, Const. Terry Brown “explained he did not realize the serious implications of what Ms. Banfield was saying until later that morning, when he saw a photograph of the replica RCMP cruiser,” the inquiry's final report said.

The report also highlights Banfield’s co-operation throughout the investigation and public inquiry, which included four interviews with RCMP; five interviews with the inquiry itself; an in-depth, on-site re-enactment of her assault; and her in-person testimony before the inquiry’s public hearings.

Stanton also said that the circumstances under which Banfield was charged by RCMP for unlawfully transferring the gunman ammunition were concerning.

“Although she had been told that she was not a suspect in any way, it became apparent that she had not been provided with the information that she indeed was being looked at, because ultimately the RCMP put forward charges against her,” Stanton said.

The charge was later withdrawn.

Jessica Zita, a lawyer representing Banfield, said that she and her client were very pleased with the report, adding that she hoped its impact would be that survivors of domestic and gender-based violence feel more comfortable speaking up.

“The way she was treated in the aftermath of this massacre, which began as an assault against her, is disgraceful,” Zita said.

In Ottawa Thursday, reporters asked Rick Perkins, Conservative Nova Scotia MP for South Shore-St. Margarets, about his thoughts on the report's recommendations to increase support for addressing domestic violence in rural regions.

Perkins said he had not read the inquiry’s report but added that he thought Banfield had not effectively reached out to disclose "her issues."

“So it’s pretty hard for the system to help someone if they don’t initiate it themselves,” he told reporters.

The report said that Banfield has been subjected to "victim blaming" and "hyper-responsibilization," which means holding someone to standards higher than to those that would be expected of the average person. This victim-blaming has had a “chilling” effect on other survivors of gender-based violence, the report said.

The commissioners also said in the report that Banfield “does not see herself to be a victim of the mass casualty or at least not victim enough to count.”

“While we acknowledge Ms. Banfield’s self-assessment, we believe it is important to recognize that she is a survivor of the mass casualty and she has also been failed by many people and institutions in its aftermath."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press