Spouse of Nova Scotia mass shooter reveals grim new details about their life together

·6 min read

HALIFAX — For 19 years, Lisa Banfield lived with a man described as a controlling, abusive psychopath who repeatedly beat her.

This long-term pattern of gender-based violence is described in detail in a document released Wednesday by the inquiry investigating why Gabriel Wortman fatally shot 22 people in Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020 — the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history.

Part of the inquiry's mandate is to examine the role of intimate partner violence, as it formulates recommendations aimed at preventing this kind of tragedy from happening again.

In her own words, Banfield told inquiry investigators about the physical abuse she endured as the killer's common-law wife.

"The things Gabriel would do to me included: grabbing me sexually … (and) physically push me around (out of the way, on the bed, or to the ground/floor)," she said in a written statement provided to the inquiry June 22.

"(He would) pull me up by my hair to get me off the ground until my scalp felt like it was going to rip off — punch me (body, face, neck), and kick me. Though I remember he only raped me once. I felt that I was his wife and what could I do?"

Aside from the physical abuse, there was also plenty of psychological harm, the statement says.

"He pulled a gun on me and came after me a couple of times, saying that we are 'done.' And I don't even know how I talked him down," she said.

"He would even beat me in front of his friends. They would watch and not do anything about it. I knew no one could help me. They were all scared of him, too."

Banfield, now 53 years old, is expected to testify at a public hearing on Friday.

In a series of interviews this year, she told inquiry investigators she first met Wortman at a bar in Halifax in May 2001. Both had left previous marriages, and three months later, they moved in together.

Within a year, he pressured her to sign a document aimed at protecting his ownership of properties and other assets.

In previously released interviews with the RCMP, Banfield had said the first two and a half years of their relationship were positive, and she described her spouse as "loving, kind and generous."

But she told inquiry investigators that his violent behaviour began much earlier. In particular, she described an assault she endured in 2001 or 2002 outside a cottage near Sutherland Lake, north of their summer home in Portapique, N.S. Banfield said Wortman threw punches at her when she climbed into their Jeep and insisted on leaving.

"I jumped out and I just ran through the woods," she said. "And then he caught me. I had blood all over me and he was dragging me back to the Jeep."

There were witnesses to the assault. Police were called, but no action was taken. When she returned home, she found Wortman removing the wheels from her car in a bid to keep her from leaving.

"Ms. Banfield told the commission that throughout her relationship with the perpetrator, she had to focus on what was in front of her at that moment, rather than what happened in the past … as a means of coping," the 100-page summary of evidence says.

"It was only when Ms. Banfield went back and read some of the journals she kept during their relationship that she recognized the frequency of the violence and how early on … the mistreatment started."

The inquiry's latest report goes on to describe Wortman's frequent infidelity, his chronic alcoholism and his persistent efforts to control Banfield through manipulation, intimidation, threats and financial coercion.

For years, she worked as his assistant in his Dartmouth, N.S., denture clinic, which provided her only source of income. Her family was worried she was becoming too dependent on him.

"I'm close to my siblings and I talk to them every day, but he didn't like that," Banfield told the RCMP. "He wanted all of my attention, and if I didn't give it to him, he was like a little boy … that needed a constant build-me-up kinda thing .... Throughout our relationship, he'd be very controlling."

She initially told the RCMP that she could recall about 10 times when she suffered abuse at the hands of her partner. But she later told inquiry investigators that the number was higher, based on what she had written in her journals.

At one point, in 2003 or 2004, a neighbour confronted Wortman at his Portapique home and demanded that he allow Banfield to collect her things and leave, the document says. "No one's coming in this house," he is quoted as responding. "And I'm just letting you know, I've got guns in here."

Banfield confirmed that she never told police about her dangerous living situation, despite encouragement from some of her siblings. At one point, they took photos of her injuries, but those pictures have since disappeared.

"Where am I going to go even if I left," she told the inquiry investigators. "He knows where (my relatives) all live and I didn't know what he would do."

Banfield also said that while she was aware Wortman had illegal guns, she was "scared" to report them. She also said when police came to the couple’s door in 2010, after Wortman had threatened to kill his parents, she lied to them, saying there were no guns in the house — fearing a possible gun battle between police and her spouse.

Inquiry lawyer Gillian Hnatiw asked Banfield: “And so, when they asked you about the presence of firearms in the house, you told them ‘no’ as part of wanting to keep them out of it?” Banfield replied, “(I was) afraid they (the police) would get hurt.”

Banfield said she eventually stopped talking to her siblings about the violence, but they knew Wortman's controlling, abusive behaviour had not stopped.

"He's a psychopath or a sociopath, he's a narcissist," Banfield's sister, Janice, told the inquiry, adding that he was a "ticking time bomb."

Meanwhile, the inquiry released a series of four videos Wednesday that show Banfield in Portapique on Oct. 23, 2020, where she re-enacted for the RCMP what happened on the first night of the rampage after she and Wortman got into an argument over their anniversary plans.

In the video, Banfield's voice is shaky and she sobs as she explains how Wortman attacked her in their Portapique home before setting it on fire. He then dragged her to a nearby warehouse, where he pushed her into the back seat of his replica RCMP cruiser.

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

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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