The former common-law spouse of the man who killed 22 Nova Scotians last April has been added as a defendant in the lawsuit against his estate.
Lisa Banfield was added to the proposed class-action lawsuit along with two more new defendants, James Banfield and Brian Brewster. The case was launched by the families of those murdered during Gabriel Wortman’s 13-hour rampage between April 18 and 19 last year.
All three have been criminally charged with unlawfully providing the gunman with ammunition, though the charges have not been proven in court, and police say the trio had no knowledge of the gunman’s plans.
Their names appear in amended court documents on Feb. 5, 2021.
“It really comes down to us doing everything that we need to do to ensure the interests of our clients, the families and those individual victims of the events of April 2020… are protected,” said Sandra McCulloch of Patterson Law, counsel for the representative plaintiffs. “I don’t know that any part of this process feels good for our families.
“It’s something they need to do, it’s not something they necessarily want to do… but at the end of the day we’re on a path toward achieving answers and hopefully some positive change.”
The lawsuit was launched in May by Nick Beaton, the widower of Kristin Beaton who, along with their unborn child, was one of the gunman’s victims.
The action alleges that Wortman’s estate is liable to the families of the victims and those who were injured in the shootings, along with injuries and damage caused by multiple house fires police say the gunman started along the way.
Banfield, 52, was the victim of serial domestic abuse, according to multiple witness statements provided to police.
She also told investigators that on the night the killing began in the small community of Portapique, N.S., the gunman assaulted her and bound her hands, but that she managed to escape and hide in the woods before emerging the next morning.
Feminist activists, who lobbied for a public inquiry to examine the role misogyny and domestic violence in the atrocity, said it’s important to consider Banfield’s years of abuse at the hands of the killer, and how they may have impacted her actions. They acknowledged victims’ families are well within their legal right to sue Wortman’s former partner, but added, women who are victims of male violence experience tremendous terror, and often, coercion.
“We don’t know, I don’t know, the media doesn’t know how she was threatened with guns, whether she felt her life was on the line or what felt obligated to do just for her own safety,” said Jeanne Sarson, a feminist activist an author based in Truro, N.S.
“If they find her guilty of providing her with ammunition, that’s one thing. That still doesn’t mean she’s responsible for what he did with the ammunition,” said Linda MacDonald, another Truro-based advocate. “That’s unequivocal, in my opinion.”
Banfield renounced her role as an executor in the gunman’s will last May. It named her as his sole heir to assets, including real estate worth $712,000 and $500,000 in personal belongings, the court documents show.
The gunman’s estate, which includes cash, three corporations — including his denturist clinic — and six properties he owned in Portapique and Halifax, has an estimated value of $2.1 million.
In the event that any of new defendants are acquitted of all charges related to ammunition and the gunman, or the charges are dismissed, McCulloch said they would make a “judgement call” on whether to keep them as defendants in the class action.
“Obviously information will continue to unfold, but at this stage, we needed to do whatever was appropriate to ensure that our families, their interests are protected.”
A second class-action lawsuit has been launched by the victims’ families against the RCMP, and the Nova Scotia government. It alleges that each failed in their various, respective duties to prevent the atrocity, stop it in its course, protect the public, and handle the aftermath in a way that did not cause further hardship or harm to families.
The joint federal-provincial public inquiry has also started its work, announcing last month its selection of experts who will lead its community liaison, mental health, investigations, commission counsel, and policy and research teams. Those directors will work closely with the new executive director and chief administrative officer, along with the commissioners themselves.
Planning for community meetings related to the inquiry has now begun, according to the inquiry’s spokesperson.
— With files from The Canadian Press