Despite the fact that the mass murders of April 18-19, 2020 started with an assault on Lisa Banfield, the RCMP never considered Banfield a victim — “that is, as an important witness who required careful debriefing and who would need support service,” according to the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report.

The report is careful to point out that Banfield does not consider herself a victim of the mass casualty, “or at least not victim enough to count.”

“Self-blame by the long-time partners of abusers is not uncommon,” the report continues. “While we acknowledge Ms. Banfield’s self-assessment, we believe it is important to recognize that she is a survivor of the mass casualty and she has also been failed by many people and institutions in its aftermath.”

Police downplayed Banfield’s statements about the fake police car

During the early morning hours of Sunday April 19 — after the Portapique murders and after the killer had escaped Portapique, but before the killing spree resumed — police made a fatal error.

“These quieter five hours — when the CIC (Critical Incident Commander, Jeff West) was in place at the command post — provided an opportunity for the RCMP command to take stock, review, and analyze the information they had received from all sources and to consider alternative scenarios. This opportunity was lost,” reads the report.

As the Portapique murders were occurring, multiple witnesses — including Jamie Blair, Kate MacDonald, and the Blair and McCully children — told police and 911 call-takers that the killer was driving a replica police car, but that information was not taken seriously.

RCMP commanders focused on whether the killer “was dead or alive, not where he was located,” and “placed insufficient importance on the repeated witness information that the perpetrator was in a replica RCMP cruiser that could allow him to travel distances quickly and provide the cover of a police disguise. No one seemed to take into account the fact that the perpetrator was familiar with the Portapique area and therefore likely knowledgeable about local roads and trails,” which allowed him to escape.

After 4am, West said that the mission was to control the crime scene in Portapique and find and arrest the suspect. At a 4:20 meeting of RCMP commanders, it was decided that the killer was “still in Portapique,” and the Crisis Negotiating Team, headed by Staff Sergeant Al Carroll, declared that the killer was “closure motivated” — that is, suicidal. Notes from the meeting quote Staff Sergeant Steve Halliday:

[S]suspect shoots victim on the deck, shoots the dog, shoots the wife, saw him, knows him and he drove away in a ford Taurus. He has done all this on the way to a familiar area to do himself in. There are no more fires, he was there as the fires were going up.

But, “these conclusions were speculative, and there was no more evidence to support them than there was to support a range of alternative possibilities,” reads the report.

See related article: “Relying on junk science, the RCMP made a terrible decision during the mass murders.”

Soon after, Lisa Banfield’s evidence became crucial. Or should have.

Earlier in the police response, RCMP investigators had attempted to contact Banfield via her cell phone, but with no luck. They concluded that she was dead. As Risk Manager Brian Rehill said:

I’m thinking she’s dead in the house that burnt down myself, I really am. The girlfriend… So the girlfriend I think she is unaccounted for and she may have split up with him so, I think she’s probably gone?

But then at 6:28am, Lisa Banfield came out of the woods and knocked on Leon Joudrey’s door.

Banfield was quickly transported to Great Village Fire Hall, where the RCMP command post had been established, and was interviewed for 45 minutes by Cst. Terry Brown and Cst. Dave Melanson in the back of an ambulance as she was receiving medical care.

“She provided additional details to the RCMP members about the perpetrator, and confirmed that he had a fully marked replica RCMP cruiser,” reads the report. Those details included information about the weapons the killer had placed in the car, and that the car “contained a ‘silent patrolman’ and that it had stripe decals, RCMP logos, a light bar, and a siren.”

But, as with the the women and children before her who told police about the fake police car, Banfield’s information about the fake police car was not taken seriously.

Banfield “provided the RCMP with vital information, and a further interview could have yielded additional information and details,” states the report.

Hearing the details of the fake police car, Brown said, “[T]hat’s very concerning for sure.” But he later told the commission that “he did not realize the serious implications of what Ms. Banfield was saying until later that morning, when he saw a photograph of the replica RCMP cruiser.”

“At around 7:30am, the command post received Ms. Banfield’s information about the perpetrator’s replica police cruiser,” reads the report, but “they did not make plans for an active manhunt.”

Banfield appears to have been categorized as not important — not a reliable informant, nor a victim. Just a ‘girlfriend.’

When a photo of the car was provided to police by Banfield’s family, the stark reality of the situation hit home, and RCMP commanders sent out a BOLO (“be on the lookout”) to officers for the fake police car, saying that the killer “could be anywhere in the province.”

But beyond the “be on the lookout” notice, the all-male group of commanders at the command post took no further action to actually look for the killer by, for example, setting up a coordinated system of road blocks or lookouts.

Instead, at 9:35am, when commanders realized the killing resumed (when the first calls about Lillian Campbell’s murder came in), officers were sent willy nilly in pursuit of the killer, no clear strategy at play.

There was one exception to the above, notes the report:

By contrast to the overall pattern of reactive response, Active Cpl. Heidi Stevenson was leading her members strategically and calmly. From 9:45am, the Enfield and Indian Brook members had taken lookout positions at the border of Colchester and East Hants counties and were monitoring the Colchester radio channel. These members had been assigned positions by Acting Cpl. Stevenson, and she continued to manage the members under her supervision strategically as the mass casualty continued to unfold.

Lisa Banfield was a victim

The commission’s final report relates the both the killer’s own experience with family violence and the history of the killer’s controlling and violent behaviour towards Lisa Banfield. The Examiner has reported on that history extensively, including here and here. The report also describes the attack on her on the night of April 18, 2020.

When Banfield entered Leon Joudrey’s house, he handed her a phone to call 911, but she couldn’t hold onto it and dropped it. So Joudrey called 911 himself, and related to the call-taker that Banfield was “freaking out” and “scared to death.”

Five minutes later, the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) arrived and transported Banfield to the police roadblock at the head of Portapique Beach Road. En route, ERT officer Cst. Ben MacLeod conducted a “cursory medical exam” of Banfield, noting that she had no visible serious injuries but she was in “a state of terror” and was having trouble walking. MacLeod said that in his career he had seen only one other person as terrified as Banfield — “a woman who had been kidnapped and held captive for three days.” At this point, although she had seen fires and heard gunfire, Banfield was not aware of the murders in Portapique.

At the roadblock, Banfield was assessed by Cpl. Duane Ivany, of the Emergency Medical Response Team (EMRT), who had earlier in his career worked for seven years with the Canadian Ski Patrol, where he had “a great deal of experience with hypothermia.” Ivany considered Banfield “moderately hypothermic. He explained that her body was not circulating heat and that this symptom ‘indicated to me that she was outside for an extended period.'”

Brown and Melanson interviewed Banfield in the back of the ambulance at the fire hall, but didn’t seek to document her injuries or offer assistance.

“Ms. Banfield was the victim of a violent assault at the hands of her intimate partner, and was still potentially under threat since the perpetrator’s whereabouts were then unknown to police,” reads the report. “The police did not take photographs of her injuries or arrange for Victims Services to support her.”

Banfield arrived at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre’s emergency room at about 8am. “On examination, she was noted to have tenderness in her lower right flank; superficial scratches and abrasions on her hands, feet, and legs; and bruising to her upper back and left wrist and hand. X-rays revealed fractures to her ribs and lumbar spine. Ms. Banfield was treated in hospital for five nights and discharged on April 24, 2020.”

About an hour after she arrived at hospital, Banfield was interviewed again by police. Cst. Trevor Arsenault asked her about the attack of the night before.

“This was the second occasion on which an RCMP member had asked Ms. Banfield to recount her recollection of the previous night,” reads the report. “Asking a witness to recount traumatic memories repeatedly is one of the key practices that has been identified as exacerbating the trauma victims experience within the legal process.”

The report doesn’t spell it out, but there is a distinction between asking Banfield more questions about the fake police car and more questions about the attack on her.

But it was the RCMP’s decision to criminally charge Banfield for transporting ammunition to the killer that amounted to “revictimization,” says the report:

Consider this context. Ms. Banfield was the victim of decades of violent abuse and coercive control at the hands of the perpetrator. He controlled her finances, her employment, her housing, and even, at times, her movements. From her first meeting with the RCMP on the morning of April 19, 2020, she co-operated fully with them when she provided a voluntary statement from the back of an ambulance while being assessed and treated by paramedics and provided four interviews and a lengthy on-site re-enactment. Only two months later, this same victim was charged by the RCMP, the institution to whom she offered her unqualified co-operation — the same institution that had failed to detect or respond to the perpetrator’s violent behaviour for decades.

The consequences of the charge “proved dire” for Banfield. The support she received from the RCMP’s family support liaison, Cst. Wayne “Skipper” Bent, was ended. Same with support she had been receiving from the Red Cross. The other victims’ families named Banfield in a lawsuit. The report continues:

Perhaps most devastating, she became publicly vilified with the narrative that she was somehow responsible for the mass casualty (despite the same RCMP confirming that their investigation revealed no such responsibility). In the end, Ms. Banfield found herself reviled and destitute.

The report goes on at length about how the charges against Banfield make it less likely that other women in abusive relationships will cooperate with police, and details the process of “victim-blaming.”

One difficult reality is that some of the victims’ families blamed Banfield for being responsible for their loss. The Elizabeth Fry Society said that during Banfield’s testimony before the commission, some family members “openly jeered at Ms. Banfield as she testified to the abuse she suffered, and the emotional and physical pain she continues to experience. Some family members have launched an ongoing campaign of blame against Ms. Banfield, using social media and traditional media to communication their views.”

The commissioners write that they themselves were presented this view directly by family members during small group interviews.

In contrast, the report cites my own work, “The witchification of Lisa Banfied,” as a counter-example of challenging victim-blaming narratives. I wrote:

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.

But the damage is done.

Banfield told the commission that she fears for her life, and doesn’t feel safe walking down the street “[b]ecause all that’s out there, I feel like someone could attack me or come after my family.”

Click here to read the final report.  

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

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