July 13, 2022

MCC Day 45 – A History of Violence Ignored

The Mass Casualty Commission today focused on Gabriel Wortman’s extensive history of violence with people other than his spouse. There was a presentation of a Foundational Document summarizing Wortman’s violent encounters with others, followed by a witness, Wortman’s former neighbour, Brenda Forbes. Ms. Forbes knew about some key incidents of violence, and had reported Wortman to the police.

Wortman appears to have been a person who routinely used physical violence throughout his adult life. With men, he would either seek out or be easily provoked into violence. With women, he was sexually aggressive and persistent in his advances. He plead guilty to assaulting a teenage boy, but received a discharge (meaning he would not have a criminal record). He would break dentures and threaten customers who did not pay on time.

Brenda Forbes’ testimony in part demonstrated how far people can go, and yet still not get in any trouble with the police. Ms. Forbes and her husband George both had long careers in the military, and were looking to settle down into retirement in Portapique. They built the home that they eventually sold to John Zahl and Joanne Thomas, who were killed by Wortman. He burned their home to the ground.

Ms. Forbes had some trouble giving her testimony, which was not addressed by her or MCC lawyer Emily Hill. She was shaking at times, and had some moments of memory slips, but nothing that detracted from the core of her testimony or her credibility. If I were examining Ms. Forbes, I would have asked her about her health as a way to explain her the way she appeared to be shaking. It may have just been nerves. She stated later to Megan Stephens that she had a stutter. Whatever it was, she had the courage to overcome it and testify, which is a useful comparator to the police officers who were unwilling to summon the same level of courage.

There were three main incidents described by Ms. Forbes. The first was when Ms. Banfield came to her home after having been assaulted by Wortman. Ms. Banfield refused to seek help or intervention, despite Ms. Forbes urging her to do so and offering help. The second was after Ms. Forbes told Ms. Banfield and Wortman’s uncle, Glynn Wortman that Wortman was regularly cheating on Ms. Banfield. Wortman threatened Ms. Forbes after Glynn told him that Ms. Forbes had told on him.

The third was when Glynn Wortman told Ms. Forbes that he saw Wortman choking Ms. Banfield in front of him and two other men. Ms. Forbes called the police, who told her that there needed to be a direct witness in order to proceed with charges. Ms. Forbes tried to get Glynn to speak to the police, but he refused. She says this conversation with the police was in person, and she called Glynn over speaker phone, but Glynn refused to cooperate and explaining that if he cooperated his nephew would kill him if he knew he had done so.

The officer was able to hear the conversation, according to Ms. Forbes. Cst. Troy Maxwell was this officer, who denies that the complaint was related to domestic violence. His notes, however, are consistent with the complaint as described by Ms. Forbes. We will be hearing from (now retired) Cst. Maxwell later in proceedings.

Ms. Forbes and her husband sold their home and moved to Halifax, and then when she learned Wortman had a place in Dartmouth they made the dramatic decision to leave Nova Scotia. They lost $100,000 in the process of having to sell and move.

In each case, a question we can ask is whether the police could have done more, such as seek a search warrant. When George Forbes saw Wortman’s guns, had he reported them to police, that would have been enough to support a search warrant application. More concerning in retrospect is the police not acting on what they heard from Glynn Wortman over the speaker phone. Had they investigated further, perhaps they would have been able to encourage a witness, or Ms. Banfield, to testify against Wortman. Ms. Forbes told the police about Wortman’s firearms, which when added to the domestic violence evidence they had overheard, may have justified a search warrant.

The other incident, unrelated to Ms. Forbes, where further police intervention may have been pushed further, involves the police bulletin from Truro Police officer Cpl. Densmore in 2011. An anonymous source stated to Cpl. Densmore that Wortman wanted to kill a police officer. Cpl. Densmore added this to the Criminal Intelligence database, as it was outside his jurisdiction, but nothing seems to have happened in terms of follow-up.

Other incidents that stuck out from today were contained in the Foundational Documents and articles published by the Halifax Examiner. One involved a woman who dated Wortman in 2000, who went to his place in Dartmouth, only to have a uniformed RCMP officer show up unannounced without knocking, and who when seeing her there made up some excuse and left. This witness has apparently given a previous interview to the MCC, but for some (unstated) reason that has not been published.

Another involves a man named Kip MacKenzie. MacKenzie and Wortman had a disagreement over a property deal in Fredericton where MacKenzie acquired a property that Wortman felt entitled to own for some reason. Wortman had travelled to Pictou about a month before the killings, and may have been trying to find and kill MacKenzie.

The Examiner theorizes that after Wortman killed Sean MacLeod and Alana Jenkins on the morning of April 19, 2020, he may have travelled to Pictou to seek out MacKenzie. The MCC has video of Wortman going to the MacLeod/Jenkins home around 6:30am, and then away from it after 9am, so he had nearly three hours, which is enough time to have made a quick drive to Pictou. The theory is consistent with known evidence. Perhaps the MCC will seek out additional videos from that driving route to determine whether that in fact took place.

Tomorrow there will be a presentation on gender-based violence, and then a Foundational Document on Wortman’s violence against Ms. Banfield.