a woman with dark blonde hair and a worried expression looks to her left
Lisa Banfield testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on Friday, July 15, 2022. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

There is a campaign of lies, innuendo, misogyny, and hatred directed against Lisa Banfield. The goal, apparently, is to destroy her.

After the murders, Banfield completely cooperated with investigators.

Banfield gave multiple interviews to the RCMP — two on April 19, 2020 (as she was being treated in the ambulance and again in her hospital bed), one on April 21 (also when she was in hospital), and another on April 28 (apparently at a police station, where she was experiencing spasms in her back). Six months later, in October 2020, Banfield participated in a videotaped walk on the ground in Portapique with an RCMP investigator.

And she has since sat down for five multi-hour interviews with Mass Casualty Commission investigators, and of course testified under oath in person at commission proceedings on Friday.

Even as the murders were occurring, it was Banfield who alerted the RCMP to the reality of the fake police car (before that, police seemed incapable of understanding what other witnesses were plainly telling them), and as a result her relatives turned over a photo of the car to Halifax Police. (It’s surely not Banfield’s fault that police then failed to alert the public about the car.)

While in hospital, she signed a medical release form so RCMP investigators could see what condition she was in when she came out of the woods and what injuries she was being treated for at the hospital. She likewise agreed to turn over everything that was asked of her — her computer records, her email correspondence with the murderer for the three years before the murders, her phone app data.

Banfield’s family has been just as cooperative, sitting with whichever investigators asked for an interview. In fact, soon after the murders Banfield’s sister Maureen discovered that Lisa’s cell phone photos were still on the cloud. Maureen related that to the RCMP, but police investigators seemed uninterested; Maureen later gave the photos to the Mass Casualty Commission.

All of the above — transcripts of each of the interviews, email and phone records, etc. — is available publicly; anyone can read them. As painful and embarrassing as that would be for anyone, Lisa Banfield’s life is an open book.

And yet, even as Banfield was testifying Friday, the campaign against her continued, especially on social media, but also in the pages of a particular local media outlet. Completely without evidence, the campaigners insisted that Banfield must have been complicit in the murders, and was therefore lying during her testimony.

Stephen Kimber aptly dispels the “questions” (i.e., bullshit innuendo) about Banfield’s account of the night of the murders, so I won’t repeat that here.

A week before she testified, I wrote that Banfield should have been scheduled for a week of testimony, but I now see that I was wrong — there is no amount of testifying that will satisfy the campaigners against her.

During her testimony, we saw as much on social media: Banfield wasn’t emotional enough, so obviously was directly involved in the murders. She was too emotional, which shows she was faking. When she admitted completely and explained why she told police in 2010 there were no weapons in the house, it was proof she is a liar and so therefore is lying about everything. When she couldn’t remember some small detail or (worse!) misremembered it, it was proof that this was performance. And on and on.

There is literally nothing Banfield can do or say that will satisfy those campaigning against her. Acceding to further demands will result in still more demands to demonstrate the predetermined “truth.”

She is, in their eyes, a modern-day witch, and they are on a witch hunt. Like Medieval inquisitors, the unsettling, confusing, and ultimately unknowable reasons for the murders of April 2020 are assigned to a woman, who is to take responsibility for the sins of a man and provide a tidy explanation for a horrific event.

False narratives

During a break in the proceedings Friday, lawyer Michael Scott gave an impromptu press conference, at which he alleged there were gaps in Banfield’s account and supposed contradictions. Asked by reporters what those were, exactly, Scott declined to give any specific details.

It was then that I said to myself, “I hope he’s not a criminal defence lawyer.”

I have some experience reporting on wrongful convictions, most notably with the Glen Assoun case, but I have detailed research on two more local cases, one involving a woman I believe was wrongly convicted, and one that I believe is a wrongful conviction in the making.

Because of this work, I follow closely the literature about wrongful convictions, of which there are hundreds and hundreds. Each case is unique, but there are broad trends and a handful of reasons that underlie most wrongful convictions. Among them is “tunnel vision” — a belief by investigators that the suspect must be guilty, so all evidence is seen through that lens, and any contradictory evidence is discarded and ignored.

Too often in wrongful conviction cases, “evidence” is simply fabricated, sometimes criminally by police and prosecutors who compel witnesses to lie by threatening them, or by falsifying documents, or by destroying evidence.

More often, however, the “evidence” used to get convictions in wrongful conviction cases is a collection of weak circumstantial evidence and innuendo, packaged in such a way that credulous juries are convinced.

And, in the many wrongful conviction cases involving women, misogyny always plays a role: That the woman did not act as she was “supposed” to act, or she was too dispassionate or overly passionate, or had nontraditional views of sexuality is used as evidence against her.

Wrongful convictions are terrible. They’re terrible for the person convicted, whose life is upended. They’re terrible for justice, as the actual guilty person is free roaming the world to commit more crimes.

Wrongful convictions should be terrible for the police, prosecutors, and judges responsible for them, but in many cases these people don’t seem bothered by wrongful convictions at all. Rarely do they apologize directly to the wrongfully convicted, and the conviction itself can be a stepping stone along a successful career path (one of the prosecutors in the Assoun case is now a judge).

Sadly, too often, the families of the initial victim(s) in such cases refuse to accept that the person found guilty was wrongly convicted. Nothing can bring their lost one back to them, but the conviction brought them something like closure, or at least an explanation for their loss. And no amount of subsequent evidence demonstrating the convicted person was innocent will be considered.

Which brings us to back to Lisa Banfield. In many eyes, she is a guilty party. There’s no actual hard evidence for that, but weak circumstantial evidence and innuendo, packaged in such a way that the credulous can buy it, are presented as truth, and here we are.

As in wrongful conviction cases, any contrary evidence demonstrating Banfield’s lack of complicity — and there are reams of such evidence — is simply ignored and discarded. And most certainly, no matter how much proof of her innocence there is, those who are propagating the false narratives will never, ever, apologize.

No matter the harm done, the Grand Inquisitor doesn’t apologize.

An abused woman

Lisa Banfield testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on Friday, July 15, 2022. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Lisa Banfield is an abused woman, and this raises uneasy truths about our society, and for some people, it is easier to ignore those truths and build a bullshit “case” against her. But, as I wrote last week, there is no doubt about the abuse she suffered:

The abuse happened over nearly the entire 19 years she was with the man the Halifax Examiner refers to as GW — the man who murdered 22 people on April 18 and 19, 2020.

Dozens of people knew about the abuse. Her family knew about the abuse. The Wortman family knew about the abuse. Her friends knew about the abuse. Her work associates knew about the abuse. Her neighbours knew about the abuse.

Police were called to one scene one night she was abused, but don’t appear to have taken any action. They were called a second time years later by a concerned neighbour, but again took no action.

The most recent commission report documents that GW’s violence against Lisa was repeated many times through the years, with the same basic pattern: unpredictable violence, followed by Lisa moving out but refusing to contact police, GW initially blaming Lisa for his attacks on her, but then expressions of regret and promises of reform, followed by eventual reconciliation. There are more witnesses, but Lisa urges them not to intervene, and the two times when police seem aware of the violence, they take no action.

As well, GW was controlling and manipulative, in ways that are detailed at length in the document.

Our society has come a long way in understanding domestic and intimate partner violence, but many people are either completely unaware of the dynamics at play or refuse to acknowledge them.

From a conventional, ignorant perspective, women in Banfield’s position make no sense: Why didn’t she just leave him? Why didn’t she call the police? She loved him! She lived well, travelling and having nice things, so she obviously made a deal with the devil.

All of this is disproved by the lived experiences of women and documented thoroughly. I won’t review all that here.

But it’s worth looking at the breadth of the problem.

Pick any random day and go to any provincial courthouse and sit in the courtroom for a day, and you’ll see a veritable parade of men being charged with violence against women in their lives. I’ve done this many times, but don’t take my word for it. Look at the statistics.

A Status of Women report issued in 2008 found that 84 women in Nova Scotia were killed between 1991 and 2006 — 56.5% of them by their spouse or boyfriend. About two-thirds of spousal abuse was not reported to police, for various reasons, including that the women feared for their lives, they felt the police would not take the complaint seriously, or they were embarrassed.

Other Status of Women reports provide the number of women in Nova Scotia who reported intimate partner violence to police; if we accept that two-thirds of incidents are not reported to police, then the actual occurrence is three times as high:

2012 — 2,134
2013 — 1,998
2014 — 1,861
2015 — 1,735
2016 — 1,913
2017 — 1,486
2018 — 1,540
2019 — 1,692

(The number of men who reported intimate partner violence to police is about one-quarter that of the number of women who did so.)

And such violence can and does end in death.

Borrowing heavily from a map published by the group Silent Witness, coupled with my own search of news archives, I’ve compiled the following list of women in Nova Scotia who were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, since the year 2000. No doubt I have missed some, and there are still some open investigations and unresolved court cases involving others.

Lori Lee Maxwell — Truro, murder/suicide, 2000
• Lisa McNeil — Halifax, killed by fire by her boyfriend, 2000
Serena Colson — Halifax, stabbed 41 times by her boyfriend, 2002
• Jolene MacKinnon — Port Morien, killed by husband, 2003
• Delores Penney MacLean — Scotchtown, strangled to death by her husband, 2004
Paula Gallant — Timberlea, killed by husband, 2005
Deborah Olmstead — Great Village, murder/suicide, 2006
Judith Ann Bourgeois-Wathen — Lunenburg, murder/suicide, 2007
Andrea Perrin — Westville, murder/suicide, 2007
Shelley Smith — Florence, strangled to death by her boyfriend, 2007
Jamie Lynn Walsh,— New Glasgow, strangled to death by former boyfriend, 2007
Brittany Green — Whitney Pier, stabbed 104 times by her boyfriend, 2010
Ottilia Chareka — Antigonish, killed with a hammer by her husband, 2011
Laura Lee Robertson — Bridgewater, choked to death by her husband, 2011
Denise Joudrey — Echo Lake, murder/suicide, 2012
Cheryl Thompson — Truro Heights, murder/suicide, 2013
Bahrija Hadzic — Cole Harbour, murder/suicide, 2015
Agnes Nicole Campbell, New Glasgow, stabbed to death by boyfriend, 2015
Laura Baker — Clam Harbour, murder/suicide, 2017
Shanna Desmond — Monastery, murder/suicide, 2017
Jennifer Lynne Semenec — Springhill, murder/suicide, 2018

“Alcohol was a factor (never the cause) in many of the murders, but some were committed sober or carefully planned,” reported Selena Ross for the Chronicle Herald in 2012:

Often police had been called to the home before. But even in cases where they weren’t, there’s usually a history of controlling behaviour if you talk to family and friends, say staff at shelters.

In 2003, Ontario established a death review committee to investigate domestic homicides, including murder-suicides, which are never dissected in court. Among the top findings: many killers had been suffering from depression, and most of the perpetrators had a history of obsessive behaviour.

The Ontario committee also found something that Nova Scotia shelters have seen: victims in 78 per cent of the Ontario cases studied had recently left or announced they would be leaving their partner.

Though people wonder why “she doesn’t just leave,” a woman’s risk of death spikes when she ends an abusive relationship. It spikes again at three months, six months and one year after the separation, said Kathleen Jennex, who works in Dartmouth for Alice Housing’s long-term shelter.

I don’t know Lisa Banfield, and I’m not qualified to comment on her in a thorough fashion, but one thing is for sure: Lisa Banfield had good reason to fear for her life and remain in an abusive relationship.

This is maddening, and as a man, I can say it’s depressingly disheartening to consider the violence expressed by so many men around me. For some, it’s easier to create a witch to blame for all these uncomfortable truths.

But that is the cowardly approach.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Thank you for writing this thoughtful and thought provoking analysis. I always saw Lisa Banfield as a victim and the gunman’s actions as violence towards women. I had no idea about the online witch-hunt against Ms Banfield

  2. Thank you so much for writing this piece. It gives me a small sliver of hope, that some compassion and common sense prevails, compared to what I feel is the re-victimization of this poor, abused woman…starting with the RCMP charging her so early in their investigation. That was shameful and only added fuel to the fire for those on the witch hunt. Thank you again for you and your teams incredible work on this case.

  3. The emphasis should be not so much on Lisa B’s participation in the two-day shooting event (she was a victim) as on the two decades preceding that, and not just on her participation (as both victim and enabler), but that of many many others in the events and buildup of karma leading to the event. There were many in both rural and urban communities who knew the perpetrator’s anger and violence first hand or by witnessing it directly; who ignored, or actually helped with, acquiring weapons illegally; who went along with a shady, cash-only (no taxes), I’ll pay you under the table culture; and who failed to respond to the few attempts to alert the “authorities” (who are part of this culture too). Nova Scotia’s Doers and Dreamers need self-examination, and a new Guide.

  4. It’s so disheartening to see, once again, this kind of vilification of an abused woman. Thank you for the article.

  5. Very well stated, Tim. The misogyny is there, no question about it. To see Lisa Banfield re-victimized by the pitchfork social media mob is disgusting.

  6. One more Examiner article that should be included in the #MCC foundational documents.

  7. I said earlier and maintain to this day that Ms. Banfield was the first victim that fateful weekend..

    I am heartbroken for those who lost loved ones, but the campaign some families and friends have taken on as their “cause”, the vilification of Ms. Banfield, is unacceptable and, in itself, abuse. She asked for none of this, and has clearly carried guilt that wasn’t hers to suffer .An abusive relationship is a fountain of toxicity. No one has a right to judge the victim.