HALIFAX — A new document shows that the gunman who killed 22 people in rural Nova Scotia had been on the radar of police a decade before his two-day rampage in April 2020.
The report tabled Tuesday by the public inquiry into the killings says Gabriel Wortman was the subject of police investigations on at least two and possibly three occasions.
The first occurred in June 2010 when RCMP in Moncton, N.B., were contacted by the gunman’s uncle. Glynn Wortman told RCMP Const. Len Vickers that his nephew, who lived in the Halifax area, had threatened to kill his parents. Later that day, Vickers informed Sgt. Cordell Poirier of Halifax Regional Police that he had also received a complaint from Wortman’s father, Paul, about a death threat from his son.
Poirier’s report on the incident says he and another officer went to the killer’s home in Dartmouth, N.S., where they spoke to his spouse, Lisa Banfield, at 3:25 a.m.
The document says Banfield told the officers that Wortman was asleep. She said he had been upset over a letter he had received the day before related to a lengthy legal battle with his parents over property. Poirier asked Banfield if there were any weapons in the home and she said no.
Poirier later checked with the Canadian Firearms Registry for any possible weapons and reported that “If [the perpetrator] has any weapons they are not registered.” The document states that Wortman had never applied for a firearms licence.
Poirier’s report said he eventually spoke with Gabriel Wortman, who told him over the phone that he had a pellet gun and two inoperable antique muskets hanging on the wall of his cottage in Portapique, N.S.
The Halifax sergeant reported that he contacted RCMP Const. Greg Wiley, who said he was a friend of Wortman’s and would attempt to meet him to discuss the complaint. The document states that Wiley, who worked out of the Bible Hill detachment near Portapique, had struck up a rapport with the killer after responding to a report of a tool theft from his cottage around 2007 or 2008.
However, Poirier reported closing the file on Aug. 26, 2010 after he couldn’t get in touch with Wortman's father. Meanwhile, the inquiry said Wiley told the inquiry's investigators he couldn’t recall speaking with Poirier in 2010, and RCMP lawyers later advised that Wiley couldn’t find relevant notes after a search of his home following the mass shooting.
In an interview with two RCMP officers on May 8, 2020, Paul Wortman suggested the Mounties had failed to properly investigate the 2010 death threat. He said nothing came of it because his son simply denied the allegation and denied owning weapons aside from the pellet gun and muskets.
"That was the end of the matter," Paul Wortman said during the interview in his Moncton home.
"I would hope that in the future when the RCMP get a call like that, they just don't record it, file it and walk away .... I believe that if a judge had issued a search warrant, he would have been arrested and his weapons would have been seized."
A second threat, this one against police, prompted a warning from the Truro, N.S., police department nearly a year later. On May 4, 2011 the Criminal Intelligence Service of Nova Scotia issued an officer safety bulletin to police agencies about Wortman written by Cpl. Greg Densmore, who warned that Wortman “wants to kill a cop.”
The bulletin was based on information from an unnamed person who told police that Wortman was in possession of at least one handgun and several long rifles that were stored in a compartment behind the flue in his Portapique cottage.
Poirier took note of the bulletin which he thought represented a “viable threat.”
He reported that he spoke to Densmore, the author of the bulletin, and to Wortman’s father before contacting Bible Hill RCMP, where Const. John McMinn, the on-duty supervisor, said he was unaware of the bulletin. Poirier said he provided McMinn with his report from 2010, including information about Wortman’s personal vehicle.
The document says McMinn conducted a database search, but it adds no further details.
The third incident involves a report filed to police on July 6, 2013 by an ex-neighbour of the gunman in Portapique. Brenda Forbes told the inquiry commission that she reported her belief about illegal weapons during a complaint about a domestic violence incident involving Lisa Banfield, the gunman’s spouse.
However, RCMP record searches following the 2020 mass shooting indicate the responding officers took “minimal notes” at the time. Much of the information had since been purged, and RCMP investigators eventually concluded that the incident was “outside the parameters of the homicide (mass shooting) investigation.”
An RCMP email on June 9, 2020 also said there “seems to be a discrepancy” in Forbes's memory of her call to police and added that there was no record of a “domestic occurrence” on the day Forbes described. “Our member who spoke to her in 2013 says he believes that call was about Brenda — not about a domestic against someone else,” the email states.
Forbes subsequently told the inquiry in an Aug. 19, 2021 interview that police never called her back about her complaint, and they did not make a voice recording when she spoke with them.
Meanwhile, the inquiry's foundational document also released details about the gunman’s arsenal at his home in Portapique.
It shows that relatives on both sides of his family and others, including neighbours and people who had worked on his property, had been shown his guns. Several people were also shown where they were hidden in the Portapique cottage and in an adjacent warehouse.
All described weapons including high calibre pistols, assault rifles and shotguns, and the document makes it clear that Wortman wasn’t shy about telling people that he had obtained some of the guns in the United States.
Lisa Banfield told the inquiry in an interview that he had “Rambo and military-style guns” and had purchased his handguns in the United States and brought them back to Canada hidden in the back of his truck.
When the gunman was killed by police as he stopped to refuel a stolen car north of Halifax, he had several weapons in his possession.
The document states police recovered a Glock 23 pistol, a Ruger P89 pistol, a Colt Carbine 5.56 semi-automatic rifle, a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle and a Smith & Wesson Model 5947 handgun that belonged to RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, whom the gunman had killed shortly before.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022.
— With files from Michael MacDonald
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press