Three people accused of giving ammunition to the man responsible for killing 22 people in Nova Scotia have now been added as defendants to the proposed class-action lawsuit launched by families of the victims.
On April 18 and 19, denturist Gabriel Wortman killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers, and burned several homes, including his cottage, before being shot and killed by police in Enfield, N.S. During most of the attacks, he was driving a decommissioned cruiser that he’d adapted to look like a real RCMP vehicle.
The gunman’s common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield, 52, her brother James Blair Banfield, 54, of Beaver Bank, N.S., and her brother-in-law Brian Brewster, 60, of Lucasville, N.S., have been charged with unlawfully providing the shooter with .223-calibre Remington cartridges and .40-calibre Smith & Wesson cartridges in the month leading up to the massacre, which began in Portapique, N.S.
Lisa Banfield is facing two counts and her relatives are each facing one count. They’re all expected to enter pleas at their next court date in Dartmouth provincial court on March 9.
Now, in addition to the criminal charges, the three are named in the lawsuit that argues they and the gunman’s estate —which has been valued at $2.1 million — are liable to the families of the people who lost their lives, the estates and people who suffered damage to property and people who were injured due to Wortman’s actions.
There is a separate lawsuit families have filed against the RCMP and the province.
The statement of claim filed against the estate alleges that in addition to killing 22 people, Wortman injured six people, killed five pets and burned or damaged three vehicles and four homes.
Lisa Banfield, James Banfield and Brian Brewster’s names were added to the lawsuit on Feb. 5. The other defendants include the public trustee, which is representing Wortman’s estate, and three companies Wortman owned and controlled: Berkshire Broman Corp., Atlantic Denture Clinic Inc., and Northumberland Investments Inc.
“Ultimately, our job is to protect the interests of the families of those lost in the April tragedies and of course the victims, the survivors of that tragedy as well,” said lawyer Sandra McCulloch, who represents the plaintiffs. “That requires us pursuing this avenue of potential recourse and accountability and answers for our families.”
In order to proceed as a class action, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court must certify the lawsuit. That has not yet happened. None of the named defendants have filed statements in response to the allegations made by the plaintiffs.
When the RCMP announced the criminal charges in December, the force said the trio were not aware of Wortman’s plans.
The criminal case “coupled with the other information and evidence that we’ve been gathering on our end adds up to there being support for some degree of culpability on the part of each of those individuals,” said McCulloch.
Lawsuit alleges spouse acquired gasoline
The updated statement of claim alleges that Lisa Banfield “was aware of and facilitated Wortman’s preparations, including but not limited to, his accumulation of firearms, ammunition, other weapons, gasoline, police paraphernalia, and the outfitting of a replica RCMP vehicle.”
It alleges Banfield “directly acquired some of the accelerants and ammunition used by Wortman in the crime spree” and that James Banfield and Brian Brewster also “directly acquired” ammunition.
The proposed lawsuit claims all three were “negligent in [the] acquisition of these items” and that they “knew or ought to have known that Wortman had tortious intentions.”
McCulloch declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the additional evidence gathered to support the allegations.
The investigative firm Martin and Associates has been working with Patterson Law since the law firm was retained by the families. Last fall it set up a website to collect tips and information related to the mass shootings.
Though police have said Lisa Banfield was the first victim of violence in Portapique on April 18, she was always excluded as a plaintiff from the families’ lawsuit.
“From our perspective, there has always been a possibility of a conflict of interest between [Banfield’s] interest and those of our clients. And you’re seeing that now manifest itself in our amendments,” said McCulloch.
Spouse suing estate separately
In a separate civil case, however, Banfield is also suing her former partner’s estate, which includes six properties, three corporations and $705,000 in cash seized from the wreckage of the couple’s cottage in Portapique.
In her statement of claim, which was filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court last summer, Banfield said she was the victim of assault and battery, and suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries and trauma.
Search warrant documents show several people told investigators Banfield, who lived with Wortman above the denture clinic in Dartmouth where they both worked, was abused during their 19-year relationship.