Gunman’s spouse in N.S. shooting staying out of public inquiry due to charges: lawyer

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Published February 23, 2022 at 9:16 am

HALIFAX — The spouse of the gunman in the Nova Scotia mass shooting won’t be co-operating with a public inquiry as long as she’s facing criminal charges for allegedly transferring ammunition to the shooter.

James Lockyer, a Toronto defence lawyer representing Lisa Banfield, said in an interview that he’s advised his client not to talk to the inquiry, which is attempting to unravel what occurred during her common-law partner’s April 18-19, 2020 rampage.

The killer took the lives of 22 people, including a pregnant woman, over 13 hours while driving a replica of an RCMP vehicle and dressed in a police uniform.

Lockyer told The Canadian Press Tuesday his client, “would have been in the commission’s office within 20 seconds of being asked,” were it not for the criminal charge. “It’s the criminal charges and nothing else,” he said

The RCMP have said from the outset that Banfield wasn’t aware of her spouse’s intentions, but they proceeded with charges alleging she, her brother and her brother-in-law had illegally transferred ammunition to the gunman, Gabriel Wortman.

The shooter didn’t have a firearms licence for the illegally obtained guns — two semi-automatic rifles and two pistols — that he used to commit his murders.

Banfield pleaded not guilty last May and is scheduled for trial in late March and early April just as the first portion of the public inquiry is aiming to establish the “how and why” of what occurred in the rampage.

The last day of Banfield’s trial is scheduled for April 5, about three weeks before the preliminary report of the commission is expected to be published. A spokeswoman for the public prosecution service said the prosecutors involved in her case are declining comment at this time.

Emily Hill, the senior commission counsel, said Tuesday during a news conference she realizes there is a “great deal of interest in the perpetrator’s common law spouse and what she may be able to share with the commission.”

Banfield’s evidence could provide further information about the killer’s personal history and state of mind and may also be key to the commission’s mandate to examine the “role of gender-based and intimate partner violence” in the killer’s actions.

In statementsgiven to police in 2020, Banfield said the killer assaulted her at their seasonal home in Portapique, N.S., the night of April 18, 2020 before beginning his rampage, and that she’d suffered prior domestic abuse over the years.

Hill said the inquiry will monitor Banfield’s criminal case “and take steps as we need to, so that the commission and participants have the opportunity to learn from her what we can.” She also said that even though the preliminary report of the commission is due at the end of April, Banfield’s evidence could be taken into account before the final report is due Nov. 1.

“It’s not too late. We have many months of proceedings ahead of us and our work … and the investigation continues right through to the conclusion of our report.” Hill said it’s too early to say whether the commission will need to subpoena Banfield to testify and face cross-examination. 

Nick Beaton, whose pregnant spouse Kristen Beaton was killed by Wortman, has said families want the commission to compel Banfield to testify and be subject to cross-examination from the families’ lawyer.

James Banfield, Lisa Banfield’s brother, has pleaded guilty to supplying Wortman with ammunition before the killings, while Brian Brewster, Banfield’s brother-in-law, is scheduled to go to trial in July and is pleading not guilty.

The three were alleged to have provided Wortman with .223-calibre Remington cartridges and .40-calibre Smith and Wesson cartridges in the month leading up to the massacre that started in Portapique, N.S. When the RCMP announced the charges in December 2020, they said in a news release that the three had no knowledge of what Wortman would do with his illegal guns and the ammunition.

Kent Roach, a professor of criminal law at the University of Toronto, said in an interview that while the public inquiry could subpoena Banfield before her trial is concluded, Lockyer could make a successful Charter of Rights argument against her being required to testify.

“I would give her the same advice as Mr. Lockyer apparently has,” said Roach. “Her co-operation could be revisited once the criminal proceedings are resolved whether by way of withdrawal of charges or a verdict.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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