This story contains disturbing details. Discretion is advised.
A coalition of women’s groups that is expected to participate in the Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry is pleased the criminal charges against Lisa Banfield, the common-law spouse of the gunman, is being sent to the province’s restorative justice program.
“We’ve always felt strongly that she should not have faced criminal charges,” says Erin Breen, a lawyer representing the coalition. “We are relieved for her.
“I think everyone is aware that Lisa Banfield is an important witness, not just because of her long-term relationship with the perpetrator, but also she is the first victim.”
The coalition, a representation of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and Wellness Within, has written to the Mass Casualty Commission to offer its support throughout the process and is expected to participate in Phase 2 of the inquiry in July, Breen says.
“We have enough information now and we support that. Lisa Banfield was a victim, was in a violent relationship for many years,” Breen says.
She says the inquiry needs to examine how society and political will can deal with the problem of intimate partner violence — a problem that’s been on the rise.
“There is literally a shopping list of recommendations moving forward in relation to intimate partner violence that we are going to be asking the commission to examine,” she says.
While the Public Prosecution Service and the commission are both independent, when asked his thoughts, the province’s justice minister says sending Banfield’s case to restorative justice makes sense.
“I do think that the decision was in the best … for transparency and having her be able to testify,” Brad Johns, the minister and attorney general, told reporters Thursday.
Banfield’s lawyer, James Lockyer, agrees the charge was never fair.
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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, Lockyer withdrew her not guilty plea. The case will now be referred to restorative justice.
Crown attorney Cory Roberts said the restorative justice process will involve a more “holistic, community-based, victim-focused” approach. If Banfield successfully completes the program, the charge against her will be withdrawn.
Lockyer says restorative justice was the Crown’s suggestion and that the defence had a very strong case.
He says Banfield will likely be testifying under oath at the inquiry, and that he and his client wouldn’t object to reasonable questions through cross-examination.
“She never dreamed in her earlier life, if I can put it that way, that she’d ever be in any kind of spotlight,” Lockyer says in a phone interview.”
But he says she realizes she is, and that she has an important role to play — and is willing to tell her story.
“She recognizes that and will deal with it, and cope with it as best she can but of course, she’s finding it all very difficult.”
He says she is, however, feeling some relief that her criminal case will be resolved.
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.
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.
The Mass Casualty Commission has begun interviewing Banfield, and Lockyer says her testimony likely won’t come for several months.
— with files from Alex Cooke
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