April 5 2021 – One year after Portapique By Paul Palango
One year after Gabriel Wortman’s murder sprees on April 18/19, thousands of unanswered questions about what really happened then and afterward continue to linger. The most transparent thing about the RCMP investigation is its lack of transparency.
What did the RCMP do and not do before, during and after the rampage that left 22 innocent people dead scattered across mainland Nova Scotia? The RCMP, the Crown and the provincial and federal governments have sown so much confusion it is all but impossible for casual observers and, sadly, the majority of professional journalists, to see the forest for all the trees.
From the earliest days, the powers that be have tried to reduce this entire matter down to a domestic violence situation gone horribly wrong. If that was indeed the case, why is it that a year later we are still searching for basic information.
Why have the police, Crown and government thrown so many obstacles in the path of clarity? Wouldn’t it have been easier and more helpful to just lay everything out on the table? By any measure this is a massive and complicated subject. I am going to break it down into some of its more easily digestible components.
April 26 2021 – How the Mounties got addicted to Twitter By Paul Palango
The one-year anniversary of the slaughter of 22 innocent Nova Scotians was marked in predictable fashion by the still-grieving families, the RCMP, governments and media. Tears were shed, flowers were shared with the Mounties, and heart-wrenching speeches were made.
Television broadcasts milked every tear. Newspapers arose from their long slumber and tried their best to show readers that they might be starting to understand what happened. The Globe and Mail’s Greg Mercer actually reported the name of Lisa Banfield and dared to suggest, ever-so-politely, that some people were asking questions about her story. How brave.
If reporters found common cause in anything, it was a group lament about the disaster that was the RCMP communications — internally and externally — that entire weekend. Even while Gabriel Wortman was careering around the province’s highways and biways killing people at will, the force didn’t put out a public alert. Instead, the Mounties inexplicably relied on Twitter to keep the public informed.
Meanwhile, RCMP officers trying to catch Wortman never seemed to know where he was. Some complained that their radios “bonked out,” meaning they couldn’t send or receive messages.
Wortman was only caught accidentally, or so we’re told, after encountering a canine officer and some of his colleagues at the appropriately named Irving Big Stop in Enfield. Unlike some other Mounties earlier that day at the Onslow Belmont fire hall, the ones at the Big Stop could shoot straight.
How The RCMP Got Hooked On Twitter
Remember last April when the RCMP held four decidedly weird press conferences during which Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, Chief Superintendent Chris Leather and Superintendent Darren Campbell all embarrassed themselves? Caught lurking behind the scenes at Campbell’s press conference on April 28 was an RCMP civilian employee named Alex Vass. He is a former journalist who had spent almost 30 years working as a radio and television reporter in New Brunswick, the last 16 of them with the CTV network. In April 2005, Vass went to work for the Mounties in their strategic communications department.
By 2020, he was a senior crisis and communications strategist in the force, “using traditional and social media to meet business goals or in other words using communications to solve and prevent crime,” as he so awkwardly states in his own LinkedIn profile. Vass brought added value to the RCMP mainly because he had a pipeline back to his former comrades in the CTV newsroom, where he could deftly wield influence from behind the scenes and keep the CTV newsroom tame when it came to stories potentially harmful to the RCMP’s reputation.
There was another part of Vass’s back story that shed light on why the RCMP had put so much of its faith in Twitter and Facebook and why it continued to defend that mystifying decision. Leather memorably called the platform “a superior way to communicate this ongoing threat” and said he was “satisfied with the messaging.” Vass was the key person inside the RCMP who was instrumental in convincing the force to use social media in a crisis and who was working behind the scenes to manage the force’s response to the growing criticism of the practise.
A lengthy story about Vass and Twitter was written by Deidre Seiden and published on October 3, 2014 in Volume 76, Number 4 of the RCMP Gazette. The now on-line magazine has been around since 1939 and covers “the latest topics in policing, offers crime-prevention and safety tips, and highlights the exceptional work of RCMP employees at home and abroad.” Vass’s interest in social media was sparked by one of the previous dark days in RCMP history — the murders of the three Mounties and the wounding of two others in Moncton.
The shootings had begun around 7:30 p.m. on June 4, 2014, and the manhunt for killer Justin Bourque went on until he was captured around 12:30 a.m. on June 6. The accompanying excerpt from The RCMP Gazette captures the RCMP’s thinking about social media perfectly, echoing the language employed to defend its use in the Portapique situation. Vass was sent a detailed list of questions for this story but did not reply. Here is what he was quoted as saying in the RCMP Gazette. “We had an idea of what we were dealing with, but the only thing that was on our minds at the time was that we had an active shooter out there somewhere in a residential area so the key is to get people to stay in and stay away from that area,” says Vass… “Social media was just the way to go,” says Vass. “It allowed us to get out and communicate directly to citizens.” “It was a quick and easy way for the communications team to not only put the message out, but to have control over it.”
Vass and the RCMP team even got an industry Oscar for what it did in Moncton —the Connected Cops Social Media Event Management award. “What we were able to do through social media in terms of keeping the public informed and aware of what was going on, and having that recognized by peers, basically confirms that we did the right things at the right time and for the right reasons,” Vass told Seiden. Vass dined out on all this in the ensuing years, invited to institutions such as the Ontario Police College about his revelation in Moncton. He described how the lessons learned from Moncton had made the RCMP more efficient and effective at communicating with the public.
He expounded on the supposed beauty of the social media system in that the RCMP could reduce the number of conventional interviews it did with the media and effectively bypass it by targeting the audience it wanted to reach. This was before Donald Trump took a similar approach. What was lost in all the hype and glitter in the RCMP Gazette were a few inconvenient facts. Just because some insider, self-interested group hands you an award doesn’t make what you are doing right. For example, in Ontario in the late 1970s, Premier William Davis was named International Transportation Man of the Year, for the province’s development of a heavily subsidized linear-induction alternate subway system.
Demonstration projects were built in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Detroit and Vancouver. I wrote in The Globe and Mail that the system, which is still in use in Vancouver, was inefficient, too expensive and not viable as a business. Davis tore a strip off me in public for writing that and used his influence to have me removed from covering the provincial legislature — which turned out to be a good career move. Ontario never sold another train and the project eventually collapsed. The Toronto Transit Commission recommended in February 2021 that the Scarborough line be closed down and be replaced by buses until an improved replacement system is constructed by 2030.
The RCMP Gazette article highlighted what it described as the explosive growth of RCMP followers on its Twitter and Facebook accounts. Prior to the Moncton shooting, Vass said the accounts respectively had 8,000 and 10,000 followers among the almost 800,000 residents of New Brunswick. In the days after the shooting, these numbers shot up to 56,000 for Twitter and 28,000 for Facebook.
The Moncton experience so enamoured the RCMP with Twitter that before the dust had even settled the Mounties hired CBC reporter Angela Chang. She had been part of the coverage of the shootings and had actively encouraged the CBC’s audience to tune into the RCMP Twitter feed at the time. Once inside the RCMP, she became the force’s director of strategic communications in Fredericton.
The next question should be obvious. Why was Vass at 80 Garland Avenue on April 28? The Nova Scotia RCMP is the largest detachment in the Maritimes. Vass was based out of ‘J’ Division in New Brunswick. Yet he appeared to be the point man calling the shots in Nova Scotia on this file. Why?
RCMP Promotions & More Award-Winning Internal Comms
Around the time of Wortman’s rampage, the RCMP was in the final stages of consolidating its two communications centres into one giant operation at 80 Garland Avenue. Former MP Bill Casey had long opposed the move, arguing that closing down the Bible Hill communications centre was short-sighted and potentially dangerous. Experts from around the world seemed to agree. A single disaster could shut down the communications centre and there would be no backup when it would be needed most. The RCMP stubbornly ploughed ahead with its plans — mainly because it had lots of empty space to fill at 80 Garland. Ironically, on April 17, 2020, the day before Gabriel Wortman started killing all those people, the RCMP had put out a tweet about one of its employees getting an award. “Glen Byrne, Commander of the RCMPNS Operational Communications Centre, has been awarded the 2020 National OCC Award for OCC Commander of the Year! (that’s their exclamation point — and the next one, too.). The award recognizes consistent excellence at work and alignment with the RCMP’s core values. Congratulations, Glen!”
Huzzahs all around
We don’t know if Byrne was back at his desk that weekend after all the celebrations, but whoever was in charge botched it up royally. The award-winning communications systems didn’t seem to work when operating under such stress — a mad man killing people. All of which brings us to another key person in the realm of RCMP communications — Inspector Dustine Rodier. She was the officer in charge of ‘H’ Division Operational Support and Operational Communications Centre on April 18/19, 2020. Never heard of her? She came to Halifax from Vancouver, via Hampton, New Brunswick, where she spent a few years, eventually running the detachment there. She used to fill in as a media spokesperson.
Her husband, Pascal, tagged along with her. He has a solid reputation as an expert in emergency management and has more letters after his name than a British Royal (MStJ, MA, CEM, SAS…). In Nova Scotia, he landed a new job as an emergency preparedness and planning manager at the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Being married to Pascal for many years and being a Mountie, Dustine Rodier, therefore, has lived most of her adult life immersed in disaster management.
What was she doing that morning that she couldn’t take the calls from the EMO seeking to put out a public alert? Whatever she had done must have been valuable in the eyes of the RCMP. In March of this year, Rodier got her reward for doing such a good job. She was appointed executive officer to Assistant Commissioner Bergerman. Rodier is clearly on the path to the top — damn what happened in Nova Scotia. And that’s the Mountie promotion system in a nutshell.
April 27 2021 – NOT DUSTINE’S FIRST RODIER By Paul Palango
Inspector Dustine Rodier was the officer in charge of ‘H’ Division Operational Support and Operational Communications Centre on April 18/19, 2020. She came to Halifax from Vancouver, via Hampton, New Brunswick, where she spent a few years, eventually running the detachment there. She used to fill in as a media spokesperson.
Her husband, Pascal, tagged along with her. He has a solid reputation as an expert in emergency management and has more letters after his name than a British Royal (MStJ, MA, CEM, SAS…). In Nova Scotia, he landed a new job as an emergency preparedness and planning manager at the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
Being married to Pascal for many years and being a Mountie, Dustine Rodier, therefore, has lived most of her adult life immersed in disaster management.
And yet, shortly after 8 a.m. that Sunday morning when it was known that Wortman was armed to the teeth and roving somewhere in the province, the Emergency Management Office was discussing the possibility of issuing an alert. The problem was that it could not break through the RCMP’s wall of silence, as reported by the CBC’s Elizabeth McMillan. She wrote that Paul Mason, the EMO executive director began raising the alarm at 8:19 a.m. but the Mounties were mute:
May 5 2021 – A clique of married couples with B.C. connections run the rcmp in N.S. and why that is a problem
A high-ranking RCMP officer who was in charge of national covert operations at the force’s headquarters in Ottawa has been quietly working for the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission as an investigator. Chief Superintendent John Robin is married to Chief Superintendent Janis Gray, who has been the officer in charge of the RCMP in Halifax County since October of 2019.
As the officer in charge of covert operations from late 2019 until last fall, Robin would have been aware of all RCMP undercover operations, including the use of confidential and other informants and agents, knowledgeable sources inside the RCMP said in interviews.
This is pertinent because police sources have been indicating since soon after Gabriel Wortman murdered 22 innocent people on April 18 and 19, 2020 that he or someone in his immediate circle may be RCMP informants. The RCMP has denied such a relationship, but the sources continue to insist that the force is not being truthful.
There are also questions about the possible role played by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which is comprised of RCMP, Halifax Regional Police and members from some other agencies. If there, in fact, was a covert operation either involving Wortman or targeting him, the CFSEU would likely have had a hand in it. That would mean that Chief Supt. Gray would have had some kind of role.
On its website page, the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission lists its “Commission Team,” including its investigators: Dwayne King, Joel Kulmatycki, Christoper Lussow, Elizabeth Montgomery, Scott Spicer and Paul Thompson. There is no mention of Robin.
At the time of posting, nobody from the Mass Casualty Commission was answering questions about him. Robin’s link to the mass casualty commission was first revealed on Little Grey Cells, a YouTube channel. Frank obtained three different copies of Robin’s business card after I put out an appeal to the audience on the Nighttime Podcast with Jordan Bonaparte.
On April 12, Robin and another unidentified officer who said he didn’t have a business card, paid a visit to Sharon and Tim McLellan. They live across from the Onslow-Belmont firehall. On April 19, 2020 Sharon witnessed two Mounties mistakenly shoot at another Mountie and an Emergency Measures Officer who were standing in the parking lot. Wortman had driven by moments earlier. Some of the shots went through the wall of the firehall and narrowly missed some people inside. Total claimed damage to the firehall was almost $40,000.
May 11 2021 – Attacking the Messenger
I’m not a fan of your magazine; however, recently you have stepped out of the fray and produced some very good journalism. Your interview with Gabriel Wortman’s father being the most noteworthy. Some of your Portapique coverage is noteworthy. Frank has a place in society.
However, your recent inclusion of Paul Palango is pointing you and our neighbours in a very dark place as a society. I can’t reveal my real identity due to my employment as I would be shunned by my colleagues in the media. I am aware, based on verifiable information, that the Canadian mainstream media has turned its back on Paul Palango, who was a one time trusted news source and held respect.
The tide began to shift several years ago when some of his views were not based on credible information, but conjecture and speculation or as the mainstream media believes, he is falling into some mental health crisis.
Maclean’s leaned into Paul because he seemed to have information nobody else had, and produced sources within the Mounties. It’s just they were not credible, and had an axe to grind. Maclean’s verified this fact and they cut Paul loose after that infamous story from last June. And they told other media sources that he is treacherous.
A colleague is working on a story about Lisa Banfield that has her and her lawyer working on a libel suit against Frank and Paul. My sources tell me the Mounties have nothing to suggest she is misaligned and very much is a victim. After the inquiry and the evidence comes out they will be positioned to be successful in showing Palango was libellous.
I support what you do, I don’t agree with the style, but we are a free society. My only reason for stepping in is that you are printing what will be shown to be his false narrative based on untrustworthy sources and possibly mental illness.
Dear Ms. Smear:
This may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve heard this all before. My position is very clear. Since the first reports of gunshots at Portapique Beach on April 18, 2020, the response by the RCMP has been stranger than strange.
The Mounties arrived on scene in time to potentially trap the killer in the community and perhaps prevent at least the last five murders. Instead, Wortman got past them, had a rest in Debert, and then was allowed to roam around Nova Scotia, killing nine more people.
Lisa Banfield says she hid in the woods for about eight hours on a blistering cold night. She went to Leon Joudrey’s house at 6:34 a.m. He has told many reporters and the police that he did not believe her story. The earliest reports claimed Banfield suffered severe injuries from a beating administered by Gabriel Wortman.
Actually, the RCMP and the Crown blacked out the first description of those injuries. The word they blacked out was “minor,” which was consistent with what Joudrey said. You suggest that I am treacherous and not trusted by the mainstream media because of a story you highlighted in Maclean’s magazine from last June.
For that story we obtained a copy of the RCMP’s undercover manual. Among other things described in that document are the procedures the force should use in a blown undercover operation.
May 18 2021 – RCMP opens up about former covert ops boss John Robin By Paul Palango
The families and friends of the 22 murder victims who died during Gabriel Wortman’s hideous rampage on April 18th and 19th, 2020 all had their names published recently as part of the group who were invited to participate in the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission as it gets under way, whenever that might be.Even Wortman’s common-law wife, Lisa Banfield, is on the list.
Banfield is, without a doubt, the most anticipated witness of the Inquiry. As you know, most, if not all, of the families who are on the public record say they don’t believe her version of events.“My clients will finally be able to ask her some of the questions that they’ve had from the beginning,” lawyer Robert Pineo, whose firm is representing them in a class-action law suit, told CTV News.The hearings are larded with all kinds of organizations demanding input from nurses to police associations to a bevy of groups fighting sexual assault, domestic violence, femicide, persons against state torture and intimate partner violence and gender-based violence.
Domestic violence has been the focus of government since the outset when a Portapique neighbour spun a scurrilous seven-year-old story about Banfield being abused by Wortman. The RCMP responded to her complaint at the time, but neither Banfield or anyone else would support the claim.Few, if any, truly close to Banfield buys that story.As Pineo put it, speaking for the families: “They don’t want too much of the inquiry taken up on that aspect of it.
They want to make sure that the main questions about why this happened, how this happened, and the events afterwards concerning communications are answered.”A former friend of Banfield’s put it more bluntly: “I loved the girl, I really did…. No way in hell was she abused. I don’t believe it for a second. Like I said before, I saw her often alone or with her sisters. She was happy as a pig in shit. I know those girls like they were my own three sisters. No way in hell would she live or have to live in an abused situation. She was always dressed to the nines and living the life of Riley.”
May 28 2021 – A Clear Conflict – By Paul Palango
In the aftermath of the recent revelation that the RCMP brought in former covert operations director Chief Superintendent John Robin to act as a liaison between the force and the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission, Frank Magazine has learned the identity of another person who will be working beside Robin.
He is a former RCMP Staff Sergeant named Mike Butcher, who I first introduced to you as part of a group of closely-knit RCMP couples moved in recent years from British Columbia to Nova Scotia (Frank 851).
Butcher is the husband of Nova Scotia RCMP boss Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman. Robin, as you may recall, is the husband of Chief Superintendent Janis Gray, the officer in charge of the RCMP in Halifax County. RCMP spokesperson Corporal Chris Marshall had this to say last week when asked a series of specific questions about Butcher’s appointment:
“Mike Butcher is a retired police officer who served 28 years with the RCMP and another 5 ½ years as a BC Provincial police officer. He has been working on contract as a public servant with the RCMP since 2009 and since 2013 has been working for British Columbia RCMP. He was seconded in May 2021 from the BC RCMP to the Nova Scotia RCMP project team responsible for the response to the Mass Casualty Commission because of his expertise in disclosure and policing, although he continues to do work remotely for the BC RCMP as well.”
June 1 2021 – Frank Magazine – FORMER COLLEAGUE GOES TO BAT FOR PALANGO
“Don’t be distracted. This isn’t about Lisa Banfield. Her lawyer, James Lockyer, one of the best in the country, is probably focused more on getting her an acquittal rather than wasting time persecuting legitimate journalism. As a matter of fact Lockyer’s reputation was built on securing freedom for the wrongly convicted, and as such is an inspiration for investigative journalists following the same path. And that ain’t supporting shoddy police work. No, this is all about covering the brasses’ asses at the RCMP.”
Frank in Portapique: More to the story
by Paul Palango
That Lisa Banfield has been charged along with her brother, James, for providing ammunition to Gabriel Wortman that he used in his murderous rampage last April comes as both a relief to those who didn’t believe her story and a nightmare to the journalists across Canada who have been protecting her from public scrutiny. On Friday, December 4, Frank broke the news that Lisa, her brother, and Brian Brewster of Sackville had all been charged under Section 101 of the Criminal Code for the crime, alleged to have taken place in the month leading up to the massacre. According to a statement from RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell, “based on their investigation to date,” the three charged had no prior knowledge of the gunman’s actions. What follows is the final version of the story that was written over the past two months which a number of media outlets across Canada refused to publish, mainly because they had concluded without evidence that Banfield was a victim and not complicit in any way.
On the night of April 18, Lisa Banfield, the long-time common law wife of killer Gabriel Wortman, was supposedly beaten by Wortman, restrained and escaped from him, hiding in the woods around Portapique Beach for about eight hours. In the more than seven months since the murders of 22 people in Nova Scotia by Wortman, the RCMP and the Crown have provided little if any evidence about when Banfield escaped or where she actually might have been. Wortman was eventually shot and killed by an RCMP dog handler on the morning of Sunday, April 19, when the two accidentally came together at a gas station near Enfield, one exit north of Halifax International Airport on Highway 102. A reconstruction of events based upon documents in the public record, site visits and interviews with people close to the situation, raises questions about the official narrative of the story. The unredacted documents were made available to media following a court challenge by media outlets.
The documents were used as information to obtain search warrants. The documents contain only a selected summary of interviews and statements to and by the police. No full interviews or statements have been released to date. The widely accepted original narrative is that Wortman and Banfield were drinking and participating in a virtual party on FaceTime with friends in the United States. The party was at Wortman’s warehouse at 136 Orchard Beach Road. Something was said that set Wortman off, perhaps that Banfield was going to leave him after almost 20 years together.
The story went something like this: Banfield went home to the cottage at 200 Portapique Beach Road and to bed around 9 p.m. She was awakened shortly afterward and Wortman beat her, handcuffed her in the back of one of his decommissioned police cars and began his rampage of death and fire. It began with him burning down his own cottage and warehouse. She escaped and hid in the nearby woods for as long as eight hours on a bitterly cold night. She came out of the woods at 6:30 a.m. and went to the house of Leon Joudrey. Police were called and that’s when the RCMP first found out that Wortman was in a replica marked RCMP cruiser.
The recently unredacted documents put Banfield at the scene when Wortman set his properties on fire. Furthermore, there is no mention of restraints such as handcuffs. There is also no detailed timeline for what took place. ‘Gabriel Wortman Told Her To Be Careful’ The new information in the unredacted documents clearly places Banfield at the scene in the cottage when Wortman began to spread gasoline on the floors, sometime around or shortly after 9 p.m. At one point she told the police officer that Wortman warned her: “The floor is very wet from gas being poured on it and Gabriel Wortman told her to be careful. As they exited the cottage, Gabriel told her to look back and she could see that he started it on fire but could not recall seeing him with matches or see him light the fire.”
At other points Banfield commented that she realized “things were serious as Gabriel was proud of the cottage and the warehouse and now he was burning the cottage.” She recounted to police that Wortman had told her: “I’m done, I’m done. It’s too late, Lisa, I’m done.” Again, there is no specific timeline or context for these statements. It was after the warehouse fire was started that Banfield said she escaped from Wortman and ran into the woods. She said she left her jacket behind hoping that police might find it. Did the police find it? Where?
It was pitch dark and near freezing. She was only wearing light clothing. She had no phone, flashlight, shoes, socks or mitts. How did she stay warm until 6:30 in the morning? The unredacted documents reveal that the RCMP was somewhat suspicious of her story. Banfield was questioned at least twice by RCMP officers. The first time Banfield was interviewed by the police was at some point on April 19, by Constable Terry Brown. It is not known when and where the interview took place. It is known that Banfield was taken to hospital that day and, legal sources familiar with the matter say, at some point during the day sought to hire a Toronto lawyer.
That lawyer, Kevin Paul von Bargen of Concord, Ontario, was a friend of Wortman and Banfield, multiple sources say. One provided von Bargen’s private cell phone number. After speaking with Banfield, von Bargen contacted lawyers in Halifax seeking local representation for the woman. Numerous attempts to reach von Bargen have proven unsuccessful. An e-mail address could not be readily found. His telephone goes directly to an answering machine, which does not take messages. When interviewed by Constable Brown, Banfield appeared to lay out the series of events that deadly weekend this spring, which began with the drinks and the Facetime conversation. Banfield told the police that something was said and Wortman became infuriated. Much of the notes from the interview were redacted in earlier releases. It was difficult to discern what Banfield actually saw and did.
In the ensuing days, weeks and months, the RCMP have portrayed Banfield entirely as a victim who must be protected. On April 24, for example, Superintendent Darren Campbell described the woman as a victim of an assault. “The victim managed to escape from the gunman and hid overnight in the woods.” Leon Joudrey, a forest technician for the Department of Natural Resources, has a very hard time believing that. He is one of the few witnesses to what happened in his sparsely populated neighbourhood, mainly because he was one of the handful not murdered by Wortman. Joudrey took Banfield in at 6:30 in the morning on April 19 after answering a knock on his side door. He has said repeatedly to anyone who will listen that he did not at the time, and does not now believe her story. (See Leon Joudrey in his own words on the YouTube channel Little Grey Cells, taped in October).
“She said she was outside all night,” Joudrey said in an interview. “It was freezing that night. Clinton Ellison was in the woods for a couple of hours hiding from Wortman and he was a big man dressed for the cold night and he had to go to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia. “She said she was out there for eight hours or so. When she came to my place, she was wearing a spandex top and yoga pants. She had no shoes on. Her makeup was perfect. She said she was in the woods. I live in the woods. Her hands were clean. Her feet were clean. She didn’t have a pine needle on her. The woods around here are messy. A rabbit couldn’t get through them cleanly. “I didn’t believe her story and I told the police who were there that morning that I didn’t believe her. I don’t know what happened, but I think it isn’t what she said happened.”
If Banfield wasn’t outside all night how did she stay warm? Was she with Wortman? Was she with the police? Or was she with a neighbour? One of the most curious incidents that night occurred when a neighbour drove past Frank Gulenchyn’s house, which was on fire. Gulenchyn and Dawn Madsen were already dead inside. The neighbour reported that Wortman was sitting in his replica police car which was parked in the driveway. It was facing a property owned by Bjorn Merzbach, a woodworker. Some suspect Wortman was trying to lure Merzbach out to kill him; or did he know that Banfield was in there and wanted to get her out?
In the first days after the shootings, Merzbach was quoted in media reports as saying that he had a long gun out and was hiding on the other side of the fence waiting for Wortman to come in. Merzbach has since refused to talk to the media, but has shared his story with others. If this is true, the question remains: How did Merzbach know that Wortman was killing people? Portapique was a woodsy neighbourhood where gunshots were not unfamiliar. The lots are large and most houses are hidden behind trees or brush. He couldn’t possibly see any bodies from his property. Did someone tell him? Was that someone Lisa Banfield? Was Lisa Banfield at his house that night? If she was, it would only have been a relatively short walk of a few hundred metres from Merzbach’s house to Joudrey’s, where she showed up at 6:30 a.m.
On April 28, Banfield was interviewed again, this time by Staff-Sgt. Greg Vardy. A prime focus of the interview was events from the day before the rampage began. A senior officer considered to be the force’s polygraphy expert, Vardy’s notes say that Banfield described how she and Wortman drove around central Nova Scotia, visiting many of the locations where he would kill people on his spree over the next two days. In the unredacted documents the event was described as a “caution interview.” Under Canadian law, a caution interview is conducted when the police suspect that someone may have been involved in criminal activity. “A caution is issued because you have reasonable and probable grounds to suspect that the person being questioned has done something illegal,” said a former executive level RCMP officer in an interview. “As soon as that thought rises in your mind that someone has possibly committed a criminal act, the law requires the officer to caution the individual.”
Halifax criminal defence lawyer Joel Pink said in an interview that in his opinion a caution is given after a subject is read his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and given a standard police warning that whatever the person says might be used against him in a court of law. He said cautions are used not necessarily because the police suspect criminality but “if there is any opportunity or any chance that a person has committed a criminal offence” the police must give them fair warning so that they might have a lawyer present. It is not known if a defence lawyer was at Banfield’s side during the interview. When asked if Banfield was accompanied by a lawyer, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau said such information was privileged.
If she was being represented at the time, legal and police sources say off the record, there is a possibility that some kind of deal was cut between Banfield and investigators. A possible scenario is that Banfield agreed to not go public with what she knew about Wortman, or risk being charged with being an accomplice or accessory. In a written response to questions from Frank, RCMP Cpl. Croteau said Banfield was not asked to take a polygraph by Vardy and said there was no deal between the force and Banfield to prevent her from talking to the media. Banfield has declined all requests for interviews by the media through her Dartmouth lawyer, Peter Rumscheid. I asked Rumscheid 11 pertinent questions about Banfield, her behaviour, apparent inconsistencies in her story and her interactions with the RCMP. “Either through me or directly, Ms. Banfield is not making any comment or answering questions from the media,” Mr. Rumscheid replied shortly afterward.
On the night of, the RCMP seemed strangely complacent about Banfield’s whereabouts. The force apparently learned about her possible presence around midnight when Alan, Joanne and Peter Griffon were evacuated from their homes. In the early morning hours of April 19, at 1:07 a.m., the Truro Police Service logs reported this: “BOLO received from RCMP advising of active shooter. ID’s Gabriel Wortman as suspect. ID’s some vehicles and girlfriend who is not accounted for.” The RCMP didn’t know if she was kidnapped, in danger or dead, but they also didn’t appear to be in much of a hurry to find out which. Why not? The latest revelations, sketchy as they are, fail to give a detailed account for Wortman’s and Banfield’s movements that night. For example, based upon the police timeline it appears that the first people killed by Wortman were John Zahl and Elizabeth (Jo) Thomas, who lived south of Wortman’s property near the bottom of Portapique Beach Road.
The obvious logical questions are, therefore:
1) Did Wortman kill Zahl and Thomas before setting the fire at his cottage?
How did he travel to their property? Was it in the replica RCMP cruiser? Where was Banfield when this happened?
2) Did Wortman kill Zahl and Thomas after setting the fire to his cottage?
If so, where was Banfield? Was she in the car with him, restrained or otherwise?
3) Or, did Wortman kill Zahl and Thomas after Banfield escaped at the warehouse?
The last scenario is unlikely, because that would mean Wortman would have had to make a three-kilometre round trip past his burning cottage in order to get back to Orchard Beach Road, where he would then kill Greg and Jamie Blair, Lisa McCully, Frank Gulenchyn, Dawn Madsen and Corrie Ellison. In the recently released unredacted materials, the only other person who appears to have been interviewed under caution was Peter Griffon, a neighbour and convicted drug trafficker who helped Wortman apply RCMP decals to a former police vehicle.
Notes from the interviews with Peter Griffon show that on April 27 he told RCMP Corporal Ken Parsons that he knew Wortman very well, but that he did not put the decals on the fake police car Wortman used during his spree. “As far as he knows, Gabriel did the decaling himself,” the entry reads. The next week Griffon provided a caution statement on May 4 to another RCMP constable. This time Griffon admitted that he had printed out the decals and knew that they were being used for the fake police car. He admitted also making the numbers.
Griffon, who was on parole after being convicted of drug offences and imprisoned in Alberta, originally lied to the RCMP about the decals but was never charged with any offences. His parole was revoked by Correctional Services Canada, however, and he was sent to nearby Springhill penitentiary. He was there for only a few hours because of a conflict. One of the victims in Wortman’s rampage was guard Sean McLeod, Griffon’s cousin, who worked at Springhill, as did McLeod’s brother, Scott. Griffon was transferred to an institution in New Brunswick, where he was briefly incarcerated. He was back at Portapique Beach shortly afterward. “Not charging him means there is no file,” says a serving RCMP officer. “No file means that they don’t have to disclose anything. That’s what they are up to.”
‘Not A Victim At All’
The manner in which investigators have handled Banfield and Griffon is the opposite of what the RCMP did with its investigation into the murder of four Mounties at Mayerthorpe Alberta in 2005. In that case, the force spent two years hunting down two acquaintances of killer James Roszko. Their crime was having lent Roszko a gun and giving a ride to the scene of the crime, unaware of what he intended ultimately to do. Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman were sentenced to 15 and 12 years respectively.
Others in legal circles and law enforcement are bothered by the notion that Banfield, having claimed to be a victim of domestic violence, has been immediately treated as innocent, apparently without much supporting evidence. They are mindful that in one of Canada’s most notorious cases, police employed the same faulty logic when a pretty blonde woman showed up in February 1992 at a St. Catharines, Ontario police station sporting a black eye she said she got from her boyfriend. Niagara Regional Police detectives immediately cut her an immunity deal before finding out later that there was more to the Paul Bernardo story and her murderous role in it than Karla Homolka was volunteering to tell.
Not naming people and hiding behind notions of privacy and political concerns does not make for sound public policy, says Robert Pineo, a Halifax lawyer representing the families, who has made a similar argument before the courts in the matter “The process must be transparent. There must be no favouritism for anyone, especially for what are ultimately political reasons. The cause might be seen to be noble, but ultimately, without such transparency the police and the government can hide things that shouldn’t be hidden. It’s not a good thing,” Pineo said. Obvious anomalies in the RCMP storyline about Banfield do not sit well with the families of the victims. They have launched a class-action lawsuit and specifically excluded Banfield as a participant. “She’s not a victim as far as we’re concerned,” said Ryan Farrington, one of the active leaders in the group, in an interview. His mother, Dawn Madsen, and step-father, Frank Gulenchyn, were murdered by Wortman. “Everything she has said doesn’t jive with me. In the first reports they said she was handcuffed and got away. In the latest one there is no mention of handcuffs. It just doesn’t sit right with me. I totally think she was involved and knew what was going on. The RCMP version of events is not believable.”
The family’s furor toward the woman grew even more when she launched a lawsuit in August to protect her own interests in Wortman’s estate, but have become particularly infuriated with her as more and more of the story dribbles out. Constant portrayals of her as a victim — not to mention as a hero, on the cover of Frank 837 (We needed a word to rhyme with zero! — ed.) — certainly raise Nick Beaton’s ire. Nick, whose wife Kristin, a VON nurse, was murdered along with their unborn child after Wortman shot her on April 19 near Debert, said in an interview that he and other relatives of the victims want to hear Banfield’s story from her own mouth under cross examination.
“They have tried to make it out like he was going to kill her, but the police interview shows that Wortman was trying to protect her. Who says, ‘Don’t slip on the gas on the floor’ if you plan to murder someone?” In his view, Wortman’s girlfriend is not a victim at all. “The victims are all those who were killed.”
‘Nobody Goes To See Gabriel’
Six months after the event, little is known about Banfield, whose identity is still being protected by the RCMP. As reported by Frank in the days following the rampage, Lisa Diane Banfield grew up in a large family in Beaver Bank. She was one of eight kids in Gilbert and Beulah Banfield’s brood. A 1986 graduate of Sackville High, she worked for a time as a hairdresser and at a bank before settling into a job working at Wortman’s Dartmouth denture clinic. Living with a sister in Dartmouth currently, she bought a new Hyundai for cash in recent months. In a lengthy interview with investigators in June, the killer’s father Paul Wortman, and his wife Evelyn speak openly about the killer and his girlfriend. It is material that has never been reported on until now. Paul Wortman said Banfield was money hungry and described the denturist clinic as “the money bank,” because money just kept rolling in like water.
Lisa Banfield was one of the few topics that Paul Wortman was less than expansive about, in an interview with Frank less than a week after his son’s rampage. But it was clear that the relationship between Banfield and her in-laws was not a warm one. The interview with investigators appears to show that neither the Wortmans nor Banfield had much love for each other. Both Wortmans conceded that while their son had considerable emotional issues and was likely an alcoholic, they believed she contributed to both his spiral and the rift between them. They believe she suffered from an eating disorder, bulimia, which caused a frustrated Gabriel Wortman to not take her out to restaurants. Paul and Evelyn Wortman describe her as being “immature… insecure … a gossip … and jealous.” Her behaviour was described as being like that of a “16-year-old adult with a security blanket.”
Evelyn told investigators that one of Gabriel Wortman’s neighbours in Portapique stated to her that “nobody goes to see Gabriel when she is there.” As much as Wortman was portrayed as controlling and menacing, she was his gatekeeper. He didn’t have a cellphone. Everything went through her. At the office in Dartmouth, she took in the cash. “If you wanted to talk to him,” said Halifax contractor Bill Acker, “You had to go through [her].”
He showed a reporter his phone. Days before the massacre he was texting back and forth with Banfield about doing more work on the Portapique properties. “I never saw anyone around there,” Acker said in a recent interview. “They didn’t seem to have many friends. They were almost always there alone. The only visitors they did have were her brother or one of her sisters. And when they came, Gabe would go all out. The last time it cost him something like $1,300 for the weekend entertaining her family. That’s how it always seemed to go. I thought he was a good guy. He was my friend. I can’t believe what happened. I’m still in shock.”