How the NS mass shooter controlled and exploited the women around him
The shooter who would kill 22 people across Nova Scotia in a mass shooting had controlled and abused the women around him for years, including his longtime partner and others who were in vulnerable situations.
The public inquiry into the mass shooting examines what happened on April 18 and 19, 2020, when Gabriel Wortman destroyed several houses and killed neighbors and strangers throughout the province – including a pregnant woman – driving a fake police car.
Documents released by the inquest include accounts from his common-law wife Lisa Banfield of her years of emotional and physical abuse, and women who had sex with the shooter or met him briefly at a party in his garage.
Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, a spokeswoman for Women’s Shelters Canada, said one such interview, of a woman nicknamed EE in the inquest transcripts, caught her attention.
EE lived near the shooter’s Portapique cottage and first met him around 2014. She told police she would do odd jobs around the shooter’s property, clean his cottage and help build the large garage which would possibly house his police paraphernalia.
She had a small apartment without running water. EE said she relied on the shooter for everything from winter firewood to food and alcohol, as she had no car or job at the time.
“He would take me to his house and run my tub for me and get out all the nice hot towels and he always had a special little soap for me, everything was nice and then he would feed me,” EE told police.
“At that point in my life…he was like a miracle to me.
EE said they were still good friends and also had an ongoing sexual relationship.
Geiger-Bardswich said the situation was concerning and matched a broader trend of predatory shooter behavior towards women.
“He was a smart person. He knew there was this power dynamic. He knew he could use and exploit women’s vulnerabilities and their needs, their basic needs to get what he wanted,” said said Geiger-Bardswich.
EE described a time when she and the shooter had group sex with a young woman who was a patient at her denture clinic in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
The shooter focused on patients who were on welfare or living on “the streets”, EE said, and he would drive them back to his cottage and “treat them like queens”.
The Department of Community Services has confirmed that the Atlantic Denture Clinic, which is owned by the shooter, has received provincial funding to provide services to clients receiving employment supports and income assistance, as well as those of the disability support program.
Between 2015 and 2020, he received $434,406 from the province for these services.
Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson, two nurses from Truro who advocate for women’s rights, have heard other stories about the denture clinic. They successfully lobbied for the inquiry to include gender-based violence in its terms of reference.
After the shooter’s name and face were made public, MacDonald and Sarson said they received a call from a woman who had once been his patient. She was so “terrified” by what he did to her while she was in his clinic that she did not complete her treatment.
“She felt he put her in the room alone on the chair and sexually assaulted her,” MacDonald said. “This woman didn’t even like to take that path around her office anymore.”
Portapique neighbor Brenda Forbes said no one believed her when she told the RCMP in 2013 that Wortman abused Banfield. Nothing came of his complaint.
Then, on April 18, 2020, the rampage began when the shooter attacked Banfield and threw her into the fake cruiser. She told police she was able to escape through the bulkhead of the car and hid in the woods overnight.
It was not the first time. Banfield said there had been at least 10 other physical assaults over the years and the shooter controlled where she went. Banfield said he didn’t like her talking with his siblings every day, because he wanted her full attention.
She described a time when two of the shooter’s friends were in the Portapique cottage as the shooter choked and knocked Banfield onto a bed. The men asked the shooter to “leave her alone” but never intervened, she said.
In progress abuse
Banfield told police the shooter would often blame her after the assaults.
“He always said, why did you make me do this? It’s your fault. Like, and I knew it’s not my fault, I’m not stupid. But yet, you know, why I put up with it, I don’t know,” she said.
Sarson said there is still a long way to go in today’s society to change beliefs and attitudes about domestic violence, which she says is often still seen as a “family affair”. .
“It’s always – ‘well, it happens in their relationship, it’s none of our business’, but it’s our business. I think we have to make it our business,” Sarson said.
Another woman said she wanted to report the fake police car and the shooter’s strange behavior, but felt too intimidated to take the step.
EE’s daughter, who also partied in the shooter’s garage, told police after the mass shooting that the shooter’s fully marked car and RCMP uniforms scared her. She was convinced that he was either an officer or was throwing parties with “dirty cops”.
DD later revealed to the commission that she believed reporting the shooter would only make matters worse or she would not be believed.
“You can’t just walk into a police station…because we didn’t know and potentially we don’t know how far it goes in policing. I could have been in danger,” DD said.
One of the shooter’s acquaintances in Portapique, Rob Doucette, said the shooter would make aggressive advances on local women at parties, sometimes entering a hot tub naked. Once, Doucette said he and another man saw him go after Lisa McCully and “physically had to take her hands off.”
McCully was one of the first people the gunman killed on April 18.
Doucette said he would see the shooter go crazy if a woman rejected him — “he’d like to start calling them whores and this and that.”
A expert report for the investigation said many mass murderers have been violent towards women in their lives – and their partners are usually the first victims of these attacks.
An analysis of twelve years of mass shootings in the United States between 2009 and 2020 concluded that mass shootings are often “interspersed with acts of domestic violence”. Based on reports of 262 incidents, he found that in at least 53% of mass shootings, the attacker shot a current or former intimate partner or family member during the attack.
Women’s Shelters Canada is participating in the investigation, represented by legal counsel, in a coalition with the Nova Scotia Association of Halfway Houses and Be the Peace Institute. Sarson and MacDonald are also participants but are representing themselves.
The inquest is expected to hear more about Banfield in the coming weeks, but no decision has yet been made on when or how she will testify.
The next phase of the investigation, which is expected to last through the summer, will also delve into various issues, including how intimate partner and gender-based violence played into the mass shooting.