RCMP were ‘careless and calculated’ in charging partner of NS mass shooter: lawyer

The RCMP were “careless and calculated” in their decision to charge the partner of the Nova Scotia mass shooter through an investigation where police deceived her and violated her rights, her lawyer says.

Jessica Zita, a lawyer representing Lisa Banfield, gave a final oral submission before the Mass Casualty Commission on Thursday in Truro, NS The commission is leading the inquiry into the April 2020 mosque where 22 people were killed by Gabriel Wortman, Banfield’s longtime partner.

Zita said Banfield, who has told police and the commission multiple times about the years of physical and emotional abuse she suffered from the gunman, had no idea the RCMP officers speaking with her in the months after the shooting were “plotting” to charge her.

“The police have to know that this is appropriate action on their part and inappropriate conduct to betray the trust of a victim of domestic violence,” said Zita, an associate with Toronto-based Lockyer Zaduk Zeeh.

“The police conduct was… outdated, ill-informed and out of touch.”

Lawyer Jessica Zita, representing Lisa Banfield, addresses the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020, in Truro, NS, on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)

In December 2020, Banfield was charged with providing the gunman with ammunition. At the time, police said Banfield, her brother James Banfield, and brother-in-law Brian Brewster, who were also charged, did not know how the ammunition would be used. All three have since had their charges resolved through restorative justice.

The charges were not only unnecessary, Zita said, but harmful and re-victimized Banfield eight months after the horrifying shootings.

She added the RCMP’s actions need to be addressed by the commission in its final report next year because it led to a “dreadful deception” of Banfield and her lawyers, which breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when she was “unsuspectingly fully co- operating” with police.

A main example is the actions of RCMP Sgt. Greg Vardy, who was one of the first officers to interview Banfield on April 20, 2020, and was “kind and attentive” to her, Zita said.

Banfield, left, stands with RCMP Cpl. Gerry Rose-Berthiaume near the remains of the gunman’s warehouse in Portapique in October 2020, during a re-enactment of the events that took place months earlier on April 18, 2020. (Mass Casualty Commission)

Banfield felt so comfortable with the Mounties that she agreed to take officers on her first visit back to Portapique in October 2020, which the RCMP filmed. During that visit, Banfield recreated her movements on the night of April 18, but Zita said police did not let her sisters walk with her, and there were no other qualified mental health or trauma experts on hand.

While Banfield thought this visit would bring her some closure, Vardy and other investigators had an “agenda,” Zita said, as police were gathering information all along to charge her. This process was never shared with Banfield or her lawyer, James Lockyer, despite his request the police alert him if they began such an investigation, Zita said.

For police to come face to face with Banfield’s vulnerability, and “feign sensitivity to further an ulterior motive is manipulative, and dare I say it’s abusive,” Zita said.

“The police were operating in extremes. This was an investigation that could be described as both careless and calculated,” said Zita.

“Worst of all, this can do nothing but discourage victims of domestic violence from coming forward to the police. Why would they, how could they, if it means being investigating themselves?”

The Nova Scotia RCMP told CBC News that Banfield was not under investigation at the time of the re-enactment filming.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

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

RCMP had also obtained search warrants for James Banfield and Brewster in the spring of 2020.

The commission will continue to hear final oral submissions from lawyers and participants in the inquiry through Thursday and Friday.

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