Nova Scotia

3 accused of giving N.S. gunman ammunition named in lawsuit filed by families

Three people accused of giving ammunition to the man responsible for killing 22 people in Nova Scotia have now been added as defendants to the proposed class-action lawsuit launched by families of the victims.

Lisa Banfield, James Banfield, Brian Brewster listed as defendants alongside shooter's estate

The remains of a cottage and the burnt shell of a decommissioned RCMP cruiser are seen at a property in Portapique, N.S., that belonged to the gunman who killed 22 people on April 18 and 19. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Three people accused of giving ammunition to the man responsible for killing 22 people in Nova Scotia have now been added as defendants to the proposed class-action lawsuit launched by families of the victims. 

On April 18 and 19, denturist Gabriel Wortman killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers, and burned several homes, including his cottage, before being shot and killed by police in Enfield, N.S. During most of the attacks, he was driving a decommissioned cruiser that he'd adapted to look like a real RCMP vehicle. 

The gunman's common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield, 52, her brother James Blair Banfield, 54, of Beaver Bank, N.S., and her brother-in-law Brian Brewster, 60, of Lucasville, N.S., have been charged with unlawfully providing the shooter with .223-calibre Remington cartridges and .40-calibre Smith & Wesson cartridges in the month leading up to the massacre, which began in Portapique, N.S.

Lisa Banfield is facing two counts and her relatives are each facing one count. They're all expected to enter pleas at their next court date in Dartmouth provincial court on March 9

Now, in addition to the criminal charges, the three are named in the lawsuit that argues they and the gunman's estate —which has been valued at $2.1 million — are liable to the families of the people who lost their lives, the estates and people who suffered damage to property and people who were injured due to Wortman's actions. 

There is a separate lawsuit families have filed against the RCMP and the province. 

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. 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)

The statement of claim filed against the estate alleges that in addition to killing 22 people, Wortman injured six people, killed five pets and burned or damaged three vehicles and four homes. 

Lisa Banfield, James Banfield and Brian Brewster's names were added to the lawsuit on Feb. 5. The other defendants include the public trustee, which is representing Wortman's estate, and three companies Wortman owned and controlled: Berkshire Broman Corp., Atlantic Denture Clinic Inc., and Northumberland Investments Inc.

"Ultimately, our job is to protect the interests of the families of those lost in the April tragedies and of course the victims, the survivors of that tragedy as well," said lawyer Sandra McCulloch, who represents the plaintiffs. "That requires us pursuing this avenue of potential recourse and accountability and answers for our families." 

In order to proceed as a class action, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court must certify the lawsuit. That has not yet happened. None of the named defendants have filed statements in response to the allegations made by the plaintiffs. 

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)

When the RCMP announced the criminal charges in December, the force said the trio were not aware of Wortman's plans.

The criminal case "coupled with the other information and evidence that we've been gathering on our end adds up to there being support for some degree of culpability on the part of each of those individuals," said McCulloch. 

Lawsuit alleges spouse acquired gasoline

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." 

It alleges Banfield "directly acquired some of the accelerants and ammunition used by Wortman in the crime spree" and that James Banfield and Brian Brewster also "directly acquired" ammunition. 

The proposed lawsuit claims all three were "negligent in [the] acquisition of these items" and that they "knew or ought to have known that Wortman had tortious intentions."

McCulloch declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the additional evidence gathered to support the allegations. 

The investigative firm Martin and Associates has been working with Patterson Law since the law firm was retained by the families. Last fall it set up a website to collect tips and information related to the mass shootings

Though police have said Lisa Banfield was the first victim of violence in Portapique on April 18, she was always excluded as a plaintiff from the families' lawsuit. 

"From our perspective, there has always been a possibility of a conflict of interest between [Banfield's] interest and those of our clients. And you're seeing that now manifest itself in our amendments," said McCulloch.

Spouse suing estate separately

In a separate civil case, however, Banfield is also suing her former partner's estate, which includes six properties, three corporations and $705,000 in cash seized from the wreckage of the couple's cottage in Portapique.

In her statement of claim, which was filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court last summer, Banfield said she was the victim of assault and battery, and suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries and trauma.

Search warrant documents show several people told investigators Banfield, who lived with Wortman above the denture clinic in Dartmouth where they both worked, was abused during their 19-year relationship.

Lawyers representing Banfield are also opposing the application by CBC and other media organizations to lift some redactions in the search warrants related to the mass shooting investigation.

Banfield opposed to lifting redactions

In documents filed with the court on Feb. 5, James Lockyer and Jessica Zita, the Toronto lawyers who are representing Banfield, argue that 13 redacted paragraphs should remain blacked out because they explain the Crown's case against their client and "invades Lisa solicitor-client privilege." 

One paragraph is a summary of a statement Banfield's friend and lawyer Kevin van Bargen gave to police. 

"His information deals with business and financial affairs, unrelated and peripheral to the events. This invasion of Lisa's solicitor-client privilege is unwarranted, would not be permitted at her trial, and should not be provided to the media," the lawyers stated in the filings. 

Their filings said Lisa Banfield gave four statements to police, on April 19, April 20, April 28 and July 28. They said the other sections that should remain redacted pertain to her statements and those made by her co-accused and other family members who spoke to police between April and July.

Meanwhile, work on a public inquiry into the mass killings is underway. Last month the commission announced the staff who will lead the teams involved in the joint federal-provincial inquiry. 

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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