The RCMP was “careless and calculated” in their decision to indict the partner of the Nova Scotia mass shooter over an investigation in which police defrauded her and violated her rights, her lawyer says.
Jessica Zita, an attorney representing Lisa Banfield, gave a final oral explanation to the Mass Casualty Commission in Truro, NS, on Thursday. The commission is leading the investigation into the April 2020 massacre in which 22 people were killed by Gabriel Wortman, Banfield’s longtime partner.
Zita said Banfield, who has told police and the commission several times about the years of physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of the gunman, had no idea that the RCMP officers who spoke to her in the months following the shooting” intended” to sue her.
“Police need to know that this is improper action on their part and inappropriate behavior to violate the trust of a victim of domestic violence,” said Zita, a Toronto employee of Lockyer Zaduk Zeeh.
“The police action was… outdated, misinformed and unfounded.”
In December 2020, Banfield was charged with supplying the gunman with ammunition. At the time, police said Banfield, her brother James Banfield and brother-in-law Brian Brewster, who were also charged, did not know how the ammunition would be used. All three have since resolved their charges through restorative justice.
The charges were not only unnecessary, Zita said, but damaging, again killing Banfield eight months after the horrific shooting.
She added that the RCMP’s actions are to be addressed by the commission in its final report next year, as it led to a “terrible deception” by Banfield and her lawyers, who violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when she “unsuspectingly fully co-operate” with the police.
An important example is the actions of RCMP Sgt. Greg Vardy, one of the first agents to interview Banfield on April 20, 2020, was “nice and considerate” to her, Zita said.
Banfield felt so comfortable with the Mounties that she agreed to take agents with her on her first visit to Portapique in October 2020, which the RCMP filmed. During that visit, Banfield reconstructed her movements on the night of April 18, but Zita said police would not let her sisters walk with her and no other qualified mental health or trauma experts were on hand.
While Banfield thought this visit would bring her some closure, Vardy and other investigators had an “agenda,” Zita said, all the while police gathered information to indict her. This process has never been shared with Banfield or her attorney James Lockyer, despite his request, police will warn him if they begin such an investigation, Zita said.
When the police come face to face with Banfield’s vulnerability, and “feigning the susceptibility to further an ulterior motive is manipulative, and dare I say it is insulting,” Zita said.
“The police were operating in extremes. This was an investigation that could be called both careless and calculated,” Zita said.
“Worst of all, this can do nothing but discourage victims of domestic violence from going to the police. Why would they, how would they, if it means being investigated themselves?”
The Nova Scotia RCMP told TBEN News that Banfield was not being investigated at the time of filming the reenactment.
However, an interview Banfield gave to RCMP shortly after the April 28, 2020 shooting has been labeled a “cautious” statement. Police issue warnings when questioning someone suspected of a crime to make sure their answers are admissible in court.
RCMP had also obtained search warrants for James Banfield and Brewster in the spring of 2020.
The committee will continue to hear final oral comments from attorneys and study participants through Thursday and Friday.