Nova Scotia

3rd person accused of supplying ammo to N.S. gunman sent to restorative justice

A man accused of supplying ammunition to the gunman who murdered 22 Nova Scotians has withdrawn his guilty plea. The single charge against James Banfield will now be dealt with through the restorative justice process.

James Banfield, 65, was charged alongside his sister and brother-in-law

The burned-out remains of the gunman's cottage on Portapique Beach Road in Portapique, N.S., are shown May 13, 2020. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A man accused of supplying ammunition to the gunman who murdered 22 Nova Scotians in April 2020 has withdrawn his guilty plea. The single charge against James Banfield will now be dealt with through the restorative justice process.

James Banfield's sister Lisa Banfield and their brother-in-law Brian Brewster were also charged with supplying ammunition to the gunman. Police said at the time the charges were laid that none of the three knew what the ammunition was to be used for. 

Brewster and Lisa Banfield have already opted for restorative justice. But James Banfield's lawyer, Michelle James, had initially advised her client the process would be too unwieldy.

"There's been a significant shift, I can't explain why, there's not really been any reason given to me as to why that has changed, but it's clear that it has," James said Wednesday.

"So the process now looks like something that I was of the view was going to be a tenable process and something that I would have advised my client to participate in. Had we got that information last year, we'd be done by now."

The restorative justice program typically brings offenders, victims and communities together to resolve issues without incarceration. It requires offenders to take responsibility for their actions.

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)

James appeared in Nova Scotia provincial court in Halifax Wednesday to withdraw her client's guilty plea. Banfield, 65, did not attend court.

Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema supported the switch.

"I can indicate that Mr. Banfield throughout the course of this file has conveyed to the Crown his acceptance of responsibility, he co-operated with authorities throughout, so in many ways this was not a surprise," Heerema said.

James said the shift is in who will participate in the process. She said she was initially led to believe that representatives of all or most of the 22 victims' families would take part. She said she now believes there will be some community representation, which makes the process more manageable.

"It looks like it's going to be beneficial, I think, for everybody, and it's the resolution I was looking for a year ago, so it just took us a while to get there," James said.

The mass shooting began in Portapique, N.S., where the gunman had a cottage. (Jonathan Villeneuve/Radio-Canada)

James said the commission investigating the murderer's rampage has recently asked Banfield if he would participate in their inquiry. She said she advised against it while he was facing the criminal charge.

She said she doesn't know how he will respond to the request now that he's taking part in restorative justice. As part of that process, participants must accept responsibility for what they're accused of and look at how their actions have impacted their community.

Families not asked to participate

Mike Scott, who represents families of 14 people who were murdered, said they've never been approached about participating in the restorative justice process for any of the people who faced charges.

"Nobody has ever committed to us that we would be directly involved or form part of the restorative justice process for Ms. Banfield or anybody else," he said.

Scott said as a result, he does not know if his clients would want to participate and it would likely have depended on the type of involvement.

Documents released by the Mass Casualty Commission have shed some light on how the gunman acquired ammunition and James Banfield's role. 

Exactly a month before the rampage on March 18, 2020, Gabriel Wortman emailed his brother-in-law, asking for:

  • 300 rounds for a .223
  • 100 rounds for a 5.56 (he owned a Colt carbine)
  • 100 rounds for a 12-gauge 
  • 200 rounds for a 9-mm
  • 200 rounds for a .40-calibre pistol 
After police shot and killed the gunman at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., they found five firearms in his possession, three handguns and two rifles. (Mass Casualty Commission)

Banfield responded later that day, writing "You think [we're] in Vietnam lmao."

The shooter responded telling Banfield to "spread it around" between Canadian Tire and Bass Pro. 

"Don't go in [all] at once they likely notify the authorities, do it over a period of time. That kind of ammo is in itself a red flag," Wortman wrote according to excerpts released by the public inquiry. He did not have a firearms licence.

'Bullets are like currency'

Banfield responded that he had never bought that type of ammunition before and planned to make a few calls or would drop by stores to see what was on display.

"Thanks, be wise, box here and there," the shooter wrote back, adding in a subsequent email: "In catastrophic times bullets are like currency."

Police later obtained search warrants for Banfield's financial records and determined he purchased two boxes of .223-calibre ammunition and one box of .40-calibre ammunition at a Canadian Tire store. 

He first spoke with police on April 19, 2020. In that interview, he told them he rarely saw his sister's common-law partner outside of Christmas and a summer gathering.

He considered the gunman a "different kinda guy" who didn't like people. Banfield said he collected motorcycles, uniforms and guns, including a "9-mm... a 40... 223's and stuff that he showed before" including a 12-gauge shotgun.

1st time buying ammunition

During one visit to the shooter's cottage, Banfield said he fired Wortman's 9-mm handgun, shooting into the mud banks at the mouth of the Portapique River behind the property.

In a June 30, 2020 interview, Banfield told RCMP he agreed to buy the ammunition after his sister, Lisa, called him up, explained Wortman was "collecting because of [COVID]" and asked for the favour.

James Banfield said on past occasions he'd declined to buy ammunition for Wortman and knew his sister's partner didn't have a firearms licence. He said after he made the purchase, Lisa Banfield reimbursed him. 

If Banfield successfully completes the restorative justice process, the charge will be withdrawn and he will have no criminal record. The same applies to his two co-accused. All three are scheduled to return to court in July to provide an update on their progress.