Lisa Banfield re-enactment videos raise questions about why she was charged

·6 min read
The gunman's partner, Lisa Banfield, left, stands with a Nova Scotia RCMP investigator near the remains of the gunman's warehouse in Portapique, N.S., in October 2020, during a re-enactment of the events that took place months earlier on April 18, 2020.  (Mass Casualty Commission - image credit)
The gunman's partner, Lisa Banfield, left, stands with a Nova Scotia RCMP investigator near the remains of the gunman's warehouse in Portapique, N.S., in October 2020, during a re-enactment of the events that took place months earlier on April 18, 2020. (Mass Casualty Commission - image credit)

The release of new videos showing the longtime partner of the Nova Scotia mass shooter re-enacting what she saw and experienced the night of the rampage is raising questions about why police charged her in the weeks following the shootings.

The Mass Casualty Commission released footage Wednesday of Lisa Banfield walking an RCMP investigator through what she remembered happening in Portapique, N.S., on April 18 and 19, 2020, including how her partner beat her and tried to handcuff her.

The re-enactment was filmed in late October 2020, six months after Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people while driving a mock RCMP car.

A few weeks after filming the re-enactment, Banfield was charged with supplying ammunition to the gunman.

The Crown eventually determined there was no public interest in sending the case to trial and instead referred the matter to restorative justice. Upon completion, the criminal charge will be dropped.

"I have concerns about the timeline and concerns about the fact she was charged in the first place," Banfield's defence lawyer, James Lockyer, said Thursday.

Erin Breen, a lawyer representing three sexual assault and justice groups — Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Wellness Within, and the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund —  said she has concerns with the sequence of events.

"It's always been a very troubling issue from our perspective. My clients were quite outraged when they learned that Ms. Banfield was being charged," she said.

"Systemically it's a problem when a survivor comes forward and shares information about their survival behaviour and ends up getting charged in a criminal investigation."

Banfield said she pleaded with gunman

In the videos released Wednesday, Banfield explains how the couple had been marking their 19th anniversary when they began fighting.

After she turned in for the night, Banfield said the gunman pulled the covers off the bed and assaulted her, kicking her into the bedpost. He then pulled her through the cottage, which she noticed was already doused in gasoline, and set the building on fire once they got outside, she told the investigator.

Banfield said the gunman dragged her into the garage and tried to put her in handcuffs.

"Looking at his eyes, there was nothing there," she said. "It was just so cold."

CBC
CBC

Banfield was able to escape — shoeless  — and hide for the next few hours, terrified he would find her as she heard gunshots.

Medical records released through the inquiry show Banfield spent five nights in hospital after suffering a fractured rib and vertebrae, as well as extensive bruising and scrapes from the night of April 18.

Other documents made public Thursday as part of the commission covered how the gunman used violence, emotional abuse and other controlling behaviour toward Banfield for nearly two decades.

Push for more police training 

Megan Stephens, lawyer for Women's Shelters Canada, said she worries Banfield's experience will discourage other women from going to police.

"I'm concerned about the message that people get because sometimes violence is such that people do need to call the police; there is no one else who could step in to protect them," she said.

"But in this case, it feels like there were multiple failures of that, and the message that I think unfortunately women will get if they connect these dots, if they themselves are living in abusive relationships, is I don't know if that's the right option for me."

WATCH | Inquiry hears from spouse of N.S. mass shooter about years of abuse, control

Breen said she hopes the commission's work will at least spark a conversation about how police and the justice system should approach intimate partner abuse.

"You see it quite commonly in situations where women are defending themselves in a violent confrontation, end up getting charged with assault themselves," she said.

"The current policy of a pro-arrest, pro-charge, pro-prosecution removes any choice or power from the person who has survived the violence."

Stephens said she also hopes police get more training about how to recognize and better respond to abuse, including controlling behaviour.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

"Intimate partner violence doesn't just involve discrete acts of physical violence, there are other ways in which controlling, coercive behaviour can really lead people to basically be stuck in situations and to have no control," she said.

"Unfortunately, there is not enough training that goes into preparing officers who are on the front line. All the more so in some of these rural communities where you don't have specialists, you have generalists."

Banfield felt 'betrayed' by re-enactment filming

In an interview Banfield gave to a commission lawyer in April of this year, she said she felt ambushed by the re-enactment filming.

She said she wanted to meet RCMP Sgt. Greg Vardy at the cottage in Portapique so he could see where her sneakers had been left and where she had hid overnight. It was the first time she had returned to the cottage since the night of the rampage.

"I heard that people were thinking I'm lying about what happened, it's like, I thought if I go up there for the first time, I want somebody to see that, you know, to find my shoes, to find this tree, to find the things that I'm telling you that happened," she said.

But Banfield said when she went to meet the Mountie, he had brought along a small audio and video crew.

"It was just feeling like I was betrayed," she said.

Her sister, Maureen, later jumps in on the interview. She said Banfield wasn't in the right mental shape to do the re-enactment.

"Here's the thing that I feel is probably the deepest betrayal in terms of the manipulation of her actually being investigated without our knowledge," Maureen Banfield said.

"It was horrific and I think it was very damning to her mentally, and that's for me, I think, the most egregious thing that took place in terms of her well-being and putting her first."

Banfield not under investigation during filming

A spokesperson for the RCMP said Banfield was not under investigation at the time of the re-enactment filming.

"The victim/witness video re-enactment was related to a period of time where Ms. Banfield was a victim of multiple crimes. Given that she was not under investigation, it would not have been appropriate to provide her with rights that are given to a person who is being investigated for an offence or who is under arrest," said Cpl. Chris Marshall.

"Lisa Banfield was provided her reason for arrest, rights to counsel and police warning, as required by the law, during the investigation in which she is charged with ammunition-related offences."

However, an interview Banfield gave to RCMP soon after the shooting on April 28, 2020 is labelled a "cautioned" statement. Cautions are delivered by police when they are questioning someone suspected of a crime, to make sure their answers are admissible in court.

RCMP had also obtained search warrants for her brother James Banfield and brother-in-law Brian Brewster in the spring of 2020. The two men, and Banfield herself, were charged with giving ammunition to the gunman in December 2020.

Police have said they had no reason to believe any of the three knew that the gunman would soon carry out a mass killing roughly a month after they purchased the ammunition.

All three cases are now being dealt with through the restorative justice process.

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