Mountie's account of probe of domestic abuse by N.S. mass killer facing questions

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HALIFAX — A former Mountie's account that a 2013 call involving the Nova Scotia mass killer was about a routine "disturbance" — rather than a vicious domestic assault — is encountering contradictory evidence at a public inquiry.

The facts of the spousal assault are central to the commission's mandate to examine gender-based violence and also provide insight into the RCMP handling of reports of the killer's abuse of women before the April 18-19, 2020, killings of 22 people.

Brenda Forbes, a former neighbour of the killer, gave sworn evidence last week that she was told by an eyewitness that Gabriel Wortman pinned his spouse, Lisa Banfield, to the ground and choked her in Portapique, N.S., in the summer of 2013. She also testified that she spoke to two officers about the assault during a meeting in Debert, N.S., but "nothing was ever done."

Her testimony has been set against an April 29 account from Const. Troy Maxwell, who retired from the RCMP last year. He has told inquiry investigators that in fact Forbes called to complain the killer was "tearing around" the community in a decommissioned police car.

Maxwell, who is scheduled to testify under oath on Tuesday, said if there had been any evidence of domestic abuse, Wortman would have been arrested.

However, in testimony Friday, Banfield told the inquiry Wortman didn't own any decommissioned police cars in 2013 — directly contradicting a key point in the former RCMP constable's version of events. Moreover, the inquiry has collected evidence that the killer acquired his four decommissioned police vehicles from a government surplus site beginning in 2019.

Banfield also confirmed on Friday that she was choked by the killer on her front lawn in Portapique, and she said Wortman's uncle, Glynn Wortman, witnessed the assault. Glynn Wortman has confirmed the assault in a statement to police. In addition, Richard Ellison, a former neighbour, has said in police interviews that David Ellison, his brother, and another neighbour witnessed the assault.

Banfield wasn't asked on Friday about the date of the incident, and Glynn Wortman and Richard Ellison haven't yet provided further evidence to the inquiry.

The public inquiry's summary of violence against Banfield says that after the 2020 rampage, there was an internal RCMP investigation into how Forbes' complaint was handled, and that investigation largely accepted Maxwell's version of events. In addition, it noted the detachment where Maxwell worked had "purged" the records of the complaint from its system.

A page of Maxwell's notes tabled as evidence at the inquiry includes Banfield's first name and the name of Glynn Wortman — two of the key witnesses in the choking assault. The inquiry quotes an RCMP investigator as saying "Maxwell did not mention why" Glynn Wortman is in his notes, and in his interview, Maxwell said he didn't recall why the names were noted.

According to a June 2020 RCMP report, Const. Karl MacIsaac went with Maxwell to speak to Forbes in Debert, while Cpl. Kenda Sutherland accompanied Maxwell to Portapique for the 2013 investigation. However, it says neither of those officers has been able to locate any notes about Forbes' complaint, and neither can recall details.

The inquiry has also heard of a second violent assault by the perpetrator against Banfield in 2003 in Sutherland Lake, north of Portapique, with witnesses present and the police called, but again, details of the police investigation are incomplete.

A summary prepared by the inquiry says "the circumstances surrounding the police involvement in the Sutherland Lake incident are unclear. Details around who called the police, when the police arrived, why the police were called, and what the police understood at the time are unknown."

"Police records may have been purged at this point but the commission continues to investigate," it says.

Asked if the inquiry will subpoena Glynn Wortman or other witnesses to the choking assault on Banfield, the inquiry's senior counsel, Emily Hill, responded: "We have attempted to contact several of his relatives; however, they did not respond to our team’s outreach."

"The commission decides who should be subpoenaed to testify based on additional information that is required to fill in gaps and address discrepancies within the detailed evidence that has already been gathered throughout the investigation."

Joshua Bryson, a lawyer who represents the family of victims Peter and Joy Bond, said in an interview Monday that he hopes Maxwell's testimony Tuesday will clear up the "apparent contradictions in evidence."

He said it's important for the inquiry to fully explore what happened in the assaults.

"Part of the commission's mandate is to look at gender-based violence going forward ... particularly with regard to early intervention. Did police have information that domestic abuse was ongoing at that time? Should there have been intervention in 2013, and yet there wasn't?" Bryson asked.

"That's what we have to flesh out."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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