Blue Line

Spouse must speak at N.S. mass shooting probe: families

March 2, 2022  By The Canadian Press

Mar. 2, 2022, Halifax, N.S. – The public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting that left 22 people dead heard from lawyers representing the victims’ families, who said the commission must call the spouse of the killer to testify under oath.

The commission has tabled summaries about how the first night of the killings on April 18, 2020, are thought to have occurred.

They include summaries of Lisa 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.

However, five lawyers representing family members asked the commissioners to compel Banfield to appear and face cross-examination, saying her statements to police after the killings contained missing information.

Banfield is facing criminal trial for allegedly transferring ammunition to her spouse — a case that is proceeding despite police saying she had no knowledge of her spouse’s intent.

Sandra McCulloch, the lawyer for over half of the family members, said it’s up to the commission to decide whether to wait for the conclusion of Banfield’s criminal trial to call her to testify, adding that having an inquiry form conclusions without Banfield’s sworn testimony is “a non-starter” from the families’ point of view.

One of Banfield’s lawyers, Craig Zeeh, said he wouldn’t agree to having her appear before the public inquiry before her criminal trial is complete or the charges against her are dropped. He added that her statements to police should suffice to inform the inquiry about what she knew of the killings in Portapique, N.S.

But McCulloch noted that Banfield was the only person to have been with the perpetrator just prior to the start of his killing rampage, adding that there is a “lack of detail” in the interviews with the RCMP.

For example, McCulloch told the inquiry’s commissioners today there is a lack of clarity about a car drive the couple took in the hours before their argument.

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 lawyer said she wondered how Banfield spent close to eight hours “in below-freezing temperatures and without protection from the elements.”

McCulloch 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 it’s best to see if Banfield’s trial ends in early April and then revisit the question of whether she can be called 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. The first Mountie arrived on scene at 10:25 p.m., and the shooter managed to carry out more killings before slipping away on a back road within about 20 minutes.

Thirteen murders occurred that night in the small community west of Truro.

The perpetrator drove a replica RCMP vehicle during his rampage, and on April, 19, 2020, killed nine more people in three Nova Scotia communities.

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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