Nova Scotia

Judge in case of N.S. gunman's spouse denies defence's request for private meeting

The case of the common-law spouse of the man responsible for killing 22 people last April in rural Nova Scotia will return to court May 5 after it was determined the defence's request for a private meeting with the judge and Crown before a plea wasn't appropriate.

Case involving Lisa Banfield is due back in court May 5

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

A case involving the common-law spouse of the man responsible for killing 22 people last April in Nova Scotia will return to court May 5 after it was determined the defence's request for a private meeting with the judge and Crown before a plea wasn't appropriate.

Lisa Banfield, 52, is facing two counts of unlawfully providing the shooter with ammunition in the month leading up to the mass killings. 

She had been scheduled to enter a plea Tuesday, but her lawyer, James Lockyer, called into Dartmouth provincial court and requested an adjournment so there could be a judicial pre-trial conference — a meeting held in chambers, as opposed to open court.

"I think it would be a very helpful process," said Lockyer, who is based in Toronto. "If I were to tell you why, I think you'd very quickly agree with me … I'm not trying to be difficult, believe me."

Judge Theodore Tax initially agreed to the meeting. He noted it wasn't a typical request, but added that Lockyer wasn't required to explain. 

"It sounds like there are some issues that need to be discussed in some detail with the Crown attorney maybe before a plea," said Tax during the brief court appearance. 

However, in the hours that followed, Tax determined such a meeting should not go ahead as scheduled on April 14. He asked that the case return to court March 31.  

"Upon further reflection, the court is of the view that such a request is not in conformance with the rules of the court or the open courts principle," Jennifer Stairs, director of communications for the Nova Scotia Judiciary, said in an email.

On Wednesday, Tax thanked the Crown and defence for returning to court on short notice. Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema and defence counsel Jessica Zita, who works with Lockyer, told the court they had plans to discuss issues related to the case in a teleconference next week. 

Tax set May 5 as the next court date. He said he would hear a plea at that time or consider another adjournment if lawyers felt it was necessary. 

The case is proceeding summarily, meaning a judge alone is presiding over the matter. 

Summary offences are considered less serious than indictable offences. Fines are less than $5,000 and jail terms don't exceed two years less a day. 

Twenty-two people were killed in the shooting on April 18 and 19, 2020. (CBC)

Banfield's brother James Blair Banfield, 54, of Beaver Bank, N.S., and her brother-in-law Brian Brewster, 61, of Lucasville, N.S., are also accused of unlawfully providing the shooter, Gabriel Wortman, with .223-calibre Remington cartridges and .40-calibre Smith & Wesson cartridges in the month leading up to the massacre that started in Portapique, N.S. 

James Banfield is scheduled to enter a plea April 12. Brewster's case is due back in court April 19, the first anniversary of the mass shooting. 

When RCMP announced the charges in December, the force said in a press release that the three had no prior knowledge of Wortman's actions on April 18 and 19. 

That weekend, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 neighbours, acquaintances and strangers in several communities while masquerading as an RCMP officer. 

The denturist torched his own cottage, garage and other homes over a 13-hour period before being shot dead by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

The charges the trio face are the only ones laid in relation to investigation into what happened. Though the gunman could not be brought to trial, from the outset police said they were looking into how he obtained the weapons he used, the uniform he wore and whether he had assistance. 

Multiple lawsuits 

Meanwhile, Lisa Banfield is also suing Wortman's estate, which has been estimated to be worth $2.1 million. In her statement of claim, which was filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court last summer, she said she was the victim of an assault and battery, and she suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries and trauma.  

A separate proposed class-action lawsuit against the gunman's estate alleges it is liable to the families of the victims who lost their lives or those who were injured due to his actions. The statement of claims filed in the case says the gunman injured six people, killed five pets and burned or damaged four homes and three vehicles.

That suit added Banfield, her brother and brother-in-law as defendants on Feb. 5. The updated statement of claim alleges that Lisa Banfield "was aware of and facilitated Wortman's preparations, including but not limited to, his accumulation of firearms, ammunition, other weapons, gasoline, police paraphernalia, and the outfitting of a replica RCMP vehicle." 

Banfield has not yet responded to that case and the allegations have not yet been tested in court. 

The burned remains of Gabriel Wortman’s cottage in Portapique, N.S. Wortman disguised himself as a Mountie and over the course of 13 hours the night of April 18, 2020, and the following morning travelled nearly 200 kilometres in and around Portapique, killing 22 people. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

She has also never commented publicly, but court records shed some light on what Banfield told police last April. Summaries of two of the four interviews RCMP conducted with her were released in search warrant documents after CBC and other media organizations went to court to gain access.

The records show that numerous people, including Banfield, told investigators that Wortman was unfaithful and abusive to his partner of 19 years.

She told police that on April 18, when they were celebrating their anniversary, he became enraged and attacked her, firing shots in her direction and attempting to lock her in a decommissioned police cruiser after he set fire to their cottage. 

Banfield told investigators she escaped and hid in a truck and then in the root system of a tree overnight.   

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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