This was a dramatic day of evidence in the Mass Casualty Commission. For the first time, we have heard the voice of Lisa Banfield, and were able to walk in her shoes, in a sense, as she did a re-enactment of her movements during the overnight hours of April 18-19, 2020. This was all in advance of her expected appearance on Friday, and seemed designed to remove all drama from that appearance. Before the presentation, we heard from two Australian experts on gender-based violence.
The experts, Jude McCulloch and JaneMaree Mahar discussed their research on the connection between private and public violence. The experts noted the (fairly obvious) point that those who commit mass killings have likely also been violent in private. It is not the case, however, that the reverse is true and mass killings are predictable by identifying those who are violent in private. There are many incidents of domestic violence, but mass killings are very rare.
The experts noted that many mass shootings involve familicide and half the deaths involved in mass killings are family members. As has been the case with other experts called by the MCC, the experts were not asked about this specific details of the Nova Scotia mass shooting, or even whether there were other cases where a spouse was spared, in circumstances similar to those of Ms. Banfield.
Professors McCulloch and Mahar stated that is it problematic to refer to a specific woman as a ‘trigger’ for a mass shooting, as it suggests that the woman is the cause, and makes it harder to view her as a victim. They also said that 30% of mass shootings targeted women, but were not asked to state whether this one did. It may seem like the answer is obvious because of Ms. Banfield’s involvement, but it is less clear given subsequent events.
The main part of the proceedings today was the Foundational Document presentation of Ms. Banfield’s statements and re-enactments. We heard her recorded voice and also saw her on video, re-enacting her account of events. This is as close as we are going to get to having Ms. Banfield testify about the events of the mass shooting. The Commission has decided that she will not be “retelling her experience of violence” on Friday when she gives evidence.
In my view, this is similar to the problems with the early testimony of the police officers who first arrived in Portapique. Rather than having a lawyer for the Commission give a presentation of the statements and evidence, it would be much more powerful to have Ms. Banfield go through her story, with the aid of the audio/visual elements of today’s presentation. It would have been better for her public reputation to do so, rather than being hidden behind these protections. She was able to endure lengthy interviews and re-enactments, so it seems likely she could handle live questions and respectful cross-examination.
This is indicative of the MCC’s instinct to seek total control over the narrative of the events of the mass casualty. Global News asked the MCC why no members of the Wortman family have been called to testify. The answer given back was that while they can subpoena witnesses to testify, they cannot force someone to submit to an interview in advance, and since they did not agree to a pre-interview, the MCC will not be calling them as witnesses.
This is an example of how the MCC sees actual live testimony, with cross examination, as secondary or optional, rather than central, as it would be in most judicial proceedings. It also demonstrates their desire for total control over the narrative that is presented publicly. Testimony can be unpredictable, particularly when no pre-interview has taken place. It suggests that they have pre-determined the outcome, and do not want to risk anything affecting the central narrative that has been developed.
Ms. Banfield will not be cross-examined, which has prompted Patterson Law and MDW Law to boycott the process of questioning her. The MCC lawyer will be asking all questions, and other lawyers are to be given an opportunity to submit questions. The lawyers for the family participants will not legitimize this illegitimate process through their participation.
All of this is a mistake by the MCC, Ms. Banfield, and the RCMP. Pieces of evidence supporting Ms. Banfield’s account have been discovered, such as her sneakers (which she has stated Wortman threw away, and were found) and the tree where she claimed to have hid overnight (which was shown on a video, and which stands out as a large, fallen tree among many much smaller ones which typify the area). More medical information would have counteracted some of the early statements suggesting that she suffered few injuries.
It would have saved everyone considerable trouble for this evidence to have been publicized early on in the aftermath of the shootings, and for Ms. Banfield to have spoken out publicly in the early days rather than waiting. Whoever has been advising the RCMP and Ms. Banfield have caused their clients considerable unnecessary grief.
The instinct to secrecy, and the instinct to micromanage the narrative, are what will remain as permanent critiques of the RCMP and the MCC no matter how much evidence later comes out to counter any theories. Those who have propagated these theories have not been making things up with no foundation. They have relied on statements, gaps in evidence, and the natural suspicion one should take in the face of institutional secrecy of a major public event.
Tomorrow the MCC will feature two panel discussions on predicting mass shootings, and the psychology of mass shooters.