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Spouse of N.S. gunman to testify at inquiry after criminal charge resolved

Click to play video: 'Global News at 6 Halifax: March 9'
Global News at 6 Halifax: March 9
WATCH: Lisa Banfield, the spouse of the gunman behind the Nova Scotia mass shooting, will now testify at the inquiry. Banfield is charged with providing ammunition to the shooter without knowledge of his plan. Her lawyers said that was why she wouldn't be able to take part. But as Callum Smith explains, a significant development Wednesday changes that. And a warning: this story contains details about domestic violence – Mar 9, 2022

The common-law spouse of the man responsible for the worst mass shooting in Canada’s history will now be able to testify at the public inquiry into the killings after it was announced her criminal charge will be resolved.

Lisa Banfield had been facing a trial for allegedly transferring ammunition to her spouse — despite police saying she had no knowledge of his intent to murder 22 people over the weekend of April 18-19, 2020.

On Wednesday, Banfield’s defence lawyer, James Lockyer, withdrew her not guilty plea. The case will now be referred to restorative justice.

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Crown attorney Cory Roberts said the restorative justice process will involve a more “holistic, community-based, victim-focused” approach. If she successfully completes the program, the charge against her will be withdrawn.

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Nova Scotia’s restorative justice program creates opportunities for people accused of crimes and victims of crime to work together to come to resolutions, permitting suspects to avoid criminal records. Banfield’s matter returns to court on May 3.

Lawyers representing the families of the victims have argued that Banfield should testify at the ongoing public inquiry into the shootings, saying she had crucial knowledge of what happened during the first day and night of her spouse’s murderous rampage.

However, lawyers for Banfield had objected to having her provide interviews to commission investigators, or appear before the public inquiry, before her criminal matter is wrapped up. Her other lawyer, Craig Zeeh, has previously said it would put her in “legal jeopardy.”

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Now that her charge will be resolved, Lockyer told reporters that he and Banfield have an appointment to speak with the commission Wednesday afternoon.

Asked if she is now ready to tell her story, he responded: “She most certainly is.”

“She’s a very important part of what happened that night, and an important part for the process as well,” said Lockyer.

“This case today was really all about Lisa not having a will of her own. She was completely under control of this man … and that’s what this case was going to be all about.”

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In statements given to police in 2020, Banfield said the killer assaulted her at their seasonal home in Portapique, N.S., the night of April 18, 2020 before beginning his rampage, and that she’d suffered prior domestic abuse over the years.

Recently released medical records describing Banfield’s injuries after the assault show she sustained fractures on the sides of two vertebrae, two fractured ribs and multiple bruises and scratches on her face, hands, feet, legs and shoulders.

Lockyer said he expects the topic of domestic violence, and how authorities deal with it, to play a “big role” in the inquiry.

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He said she is “devastated” by everything that’s happened and is “more worried about the even greater devastation that’s happened to the families” of the victims.

Banfield to testify at a later date

During the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings Wednesday afternoon, Chief Commissioner Michael MacDonald confirmed that Banfield will testify at the inquiry at a later date.

He said it’s never been a matter of if the commission wanted to hear from Banfield — it was if and when.

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MacDonald said she has agreed to meet with the commission for the first of several interviews later this afternoon.

Banfield’s brother and her brother-in-law were also charged in December 2020 with illegally transferring ammunition to the gunman, although RCMP have said they don’t believe they knew of the killer’s intentions.

James Banfield, Lisa Banfield’s brother, has pleaded guilty, while Brian Brewster, Banfield’s brother-in-law, is scheduled to go to trial in July and is pleading not guilty.

In all cases, the RCMP has said it had no knowledge of what the killer would do with his illegal guns and the ammunition.

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— with files from The Canadian Press

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