Killer’s spouse must attend N.S. inquiry: families
March 3, 2022 By The Canadian Press
Mar. 2, 2022, Halifax, N.S. – Lawyers representing family members of the 22 people killed in Nova Scotia’s mass shooting said Wednesday that the public inquiry into the tragedy would lose credibility if the killer’s spouse and the RCMP aren’t forced to testify.
In submissions Wednesday morning, Sandra McCulloch, the lawyer for 14 victims’ families, said that Lisa Banfield has crucial knowledge of what happened on April 18, 2020, during the first day and night of her spouse’s murderous rampage — which carried on until the morning of April 19.
“Our clients are steadfast in their view that the commission cannot possibly create a trustworthy foundation for its work in the absence of … tested evidence from Ms. Banfield,” McCulloch told the three commissioners of the inquiry.
The commission has tabled summaries about how the first night of the killings are thought to have occurred, beginning in the small enclave of Portapique, N.S., a community west of Truro. They include information drawn from Banfield’s statements to police, in which she said the rampage began after her spouse argued with her and assaulted her before she escaped into nearby woods.
McCulloch asked the commissioners Wednesday to compel Banfield to appear and face cross-examination, saying her statements require elaboration — and adding that her absence risks turning the inquiry into a “non-starter” for families of the shooters’ victims.
Banfield, however, is facing a criminal trial for allegedly transferring ammunition to her spouse — a case that is proceeding despite police saying she had no knowledge of the killer’s intent.
One of Banfield’s lawyers, Craig Zeeh, said he’ll object to having her provide interviews to commission investigators, or to appear before the public inquiry, before her criminal matter is wrapped up. He said to do otherwise would put her in “legal jeopardy.”
Her statements to police should suffice to inform the inquiry about what she knew of the killings in Portapique, he said.
However, McCulloch told the inquiry there is a lack of clarity regarding details of a car drive the couple took in the hours before their argument on April 18, 2020. She also said there are “significant concerns” about Banfield’s account of the conflict with her spouse and her subsequent escape into the woods.
The families’ lawyer said she has questions about Banfield’s account that at one point, “she shed her coat while at the same time being bound at the wrist and constrained.” The lawyer also said she wanted to know more about Banfield’s statement to police that she was handcuffed by her spouse and yet escaped from a vehicle he had placed her in.
The commissioners’ lawyer, Emily Hill, said Wednesday that the requests by several families’ lawyers to hear Banfield is “premature,” adding that it would make more sense to subpoena Banfield in early April, after her trial is over.
In the afternoon, the lawyer for the National Police Federation, Nasha Nijhawan, informed the inquiry that the union wants the commissioners to consider whether the officers who responded to the killings in 2020 would suffer trauma if forced to testify.
According to the documents released at the inquiry, the first 911 call went out from Portapique at 10:04 p.m. on April 18, 2020, and the first Mounties arrived on scene shortly after 10:25 p.m. They began advancing toward the chaotic scene of burning buildings and dead bodies in the community, where 13 of 22 fatalities occurred.
Family members’ lawyers have raised questions about the police response, ranging from the alleged lack of public warnings to the failure to contain the killer on the first night.
However, Nijhawan said the Mounties involved have already been interviewed by commission investigators.
She cited the commission’s mandate, which is to be “trauma-informed” in its process and to carry out its investigations in a way that causes “the least harm.” All the RCMP members involved had suffered a “potentially serious” traumatic event, Nijhawan said.
Several lawyers for the families said they would object to general arguments that could prevent police officers from being subpoenaed to testify.
Joshua Bryson, who represents the family of a murdered couple, Joy and Peter Bond, told the commissioners it would be a poor precedent to exempt officers because of potential trauma.
“Police have a very difficult job,” Bryson said. “Part of a police officer’s job often (is) to testify regarding violent crimes.”
“To suggest that these members be disqualified from testifying … is very concerning, and it acts as a bar for this commission to fulfil its mandate.”
Linda Hupman, a lawyer who represents relatives of Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver and Emily Tuck — a family killed in Portapique — concurred with McCulloch about the need to have Banfield testify.
Anastacia Merrigan, a lawyer who represents the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, which runs women’s shelters, said it’s not appropriate to call Banfield to testify as a witness.
“Requiring Ms. Banfield to relive this trauma and to face the criticism, and the detailed testing of evidence … causes other victims of intimate-partner and gender-based violence to fear the reporting process,” she told the commission.
The public inquiry is charged with determining the facts of Canada’s worst mass shooting and with formulating recommendations to help prevent Canadian communities from suffering similar catastrophes.
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