We struggle a lot with survivor’s guilt because he did come for our lives and there was a lot of innocent lives that were taken after our home that — We don’t know how to handle that. We don’t know how to cope. I feel my life should have been taken. Not the lives of mothers and grandmothers and aunts and people that lost a very important person in their family. People that were Good Samaritans trying to help and their lives got taken.

Carole Fisher

Early in the morning of Sunday, April 19, Carole Fisher’s mother alerted her and her husband, Adam Fisher, about the man who had murdered a number of people in Portapique the night before — at that time, no one knew exactly how many people were killed, but the name of the killer had been made public.

Carole and Adam knew the killer, whom the Examiner refers to as GW. They knew GW had constructed a replica RCMP cruiser, and so they called police to alert them of that fact.

Just a few minutes later, GW pulled into the driveway of the Fisher’s house in Glenholme and got out of the fake police car. Adam looked out the window and saw GW carrying a rifle in one hand and something else in the other hand. Adam grabbed his own gun, called 911, and hid in one room; Carole hid in another room. GW banged on the door of the house.

But GW didn’t barge into the house and murder the Fishers. We don’t know why. Perhaps, as Adam thinks, GW knew that Adam had a gun and feared an armed confrontation. Or perhaps the object in GW’s other hand was a police radio or scanner, and GW knew that an RCMP emergency response team was moments away. In either case, GW got back in the fake police car and left.

GW murdered 13 people in Portapique Saturday night and four people Sunday morning before showing up at the Fisher residence. After he left the Fishers, GW went on to murder five more people on Sunday before he was killed by police in Enfield.

Surviving a mass murder has challenges. The Fishers related those challenges in a Sept. 19, 2022 interview with the commissioners leading the Mass Casualty Commission.

“After being a survivor of this, it has been very difficult,” said Carole. “It has been a very alone feeling. We have been as supportive as we possibly can to the families [of those who were killed]. Adam and I directly lost eight friends and family members in the mass casualty and we were directly targeted as a victim as well from the shooter. And when that happened, he took a lot from us. He took being able to be in my home and feeling safe.”

“There is no escape,” continued Carole, explaining that COVID rules in place at the time of the murders meant she couldn’t leave the province or even go to her cottage. “He left a terrible mark when he came to take our lives and it is an image that I struggle with every day. It is the first thing that I see when I wake up and the last thing I see when I go to bed… I lived through every experience of the other 22 victims and how their lives were taken. That was a very traumatic thing that traumatized me and haunted me because I know what it was like for them.”

“It really consumes you,” said Adam. “You know, it’s two and a half years almost, and what do I — when I see people I haven’t seen for a long time, what do they want to talk about? Guess what? You know? So then it is — then you are right back in it again and you are like staring into space —”

“And living it,” interrupted Carole.

Adam had armed himself during the encounter with the killer — “I was ready to blow his head off,” said Adam — and Adam believes that the killer left the property because he knew that Adam was armed (for this reason, Adam is very much opposed to gun control).

But the fact that Adam didn’t engage the killer gnaws at him. Adam said he thought about that during every session of the public proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission, which began with a slide containing the names of the 22 victims.

“You know, it is just eerie,” said Adam. “Every time a picture [the slide with the names] goes up, it is like, well, look. Our pictures should have been — that is where we should have been. And you know, there is nine people that died after he left our house.”

Adam was incorrect here; there were five more fatalities after the killer left the Fishers’ property, not nine, but Adam may not have understood the sequence of events on April 19, when nine people in total were killed.

“You know, survivor’s guilt. You know, every day thinking about that and the families and the children, and you know, how — Why didn’t, you know, why didn’t — When I called 911 or called the dispatch 11 minutes before that, you know, prepare or help me prepare or do something that could have stopped that or stopped —. You know, it is just, I was one of the only people — well, I was the only person in that 24-hour span that — or however many, 13 hours, that could have stopped it. I am the only person other than the police, like, and they weren’t there to stop him. So how does that make me feel?”

“This is our trouble,” added Carole. “We struggle a lot with survivor’s guilt because he did come for our lives and there was a lot of innocent lives that were taken after our home that — We don’t know how to handle that. We don’t know how to cope. I feel my life should have been taken. Not the lives of mothers and grandmothers and aunts and people that lost a very important person in their family. People that were Good Samaritans trying to help and their lives got taken.”

“Yeah, and he came to take ours but we are still alive,” said Adam.

‘Their own private investigators’

The Fishers didn’t like the Mass Casualty Commission’s decision to publicly release their names, address, and transcripts of their 911 calls on the morning of April 19, 2020, and especially their video of the killer getting out of his car on their property, as he headed to their house.

“The outcome of that is exactly what I knew would happen,” said Carole. “The general public wants to be their own private investigators. They want to share everything publicly and that is exactly what they did. So there was a lot of re-enactment those next few days and the next weeks after things were released and I wasn’t able to feel safe in my home. I received phone calls. I received disturbing emails and I watched people be down in front of our home on a regular basis.”

“Well, also people just driving up in our yard for no reason and stopping and turning,” added Adam. “That was because — probably because there is [a] No Trespassing sign in our driveway that was released when that video was released. Why anybody felt that it was fine to pass a No Trespassing sign and go show people our property, our private area, is beyond me. Why? So, how you would — why that would be released on national television in an area that had a No Trespassing — beyond a No Trespassing sign.”

Why wasn’t Lisa Banfield cross-examined?

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

The day after the Fishers spoke with the commissioners, Nick Beaton met with them. Beaton is the husband of Kristen Beaton, a pregnant VON worker who was killed on Plains Road just moments after GW left the Fisher residence.

Nick Beaton expressed a range of frustrations. High among them was the commissioner’s decision to not allow Lisa Banfield to be cross-examined by lawyers representing families of the victims.

“Like, she is without a doubt, she knows the before, the during, the after,” said Beaton. “She is the one that can give all these answers.”

“I get why I can’t get up there [and question her] because I am — I don’t want to traumatize her any more, but why wasn’t like, say, our counsel, given the opportunity to ask her questions? Because there are questions that she can — and her and only her, alone, can answer.”

In response, Commissioner Michael MacDonald first apologized to Beaton for a heated interaction at one of the public proceedings of the commission — Beaton had raised and shouted at anger at witness Cpl. Wayne “Skipper” Bent, who had previously suggested to Beaton that Kristen may have had “a relationship” with GW; at the proceeding, MacDonald reprimanded Beaton for his disruption, and Beaton stormed out of the room, swearing.

“I apologize to you for the afternoon that Skipper Bent testified and I could have handled that a lot better and I didn’t,” said MacDonald.

“And I appreciate that fact,” responded Beaton. “I certainly do.”

MacDonald then said he couldn’t speak specifically to the accommodation the commission extended to Banfield — which is that she would only questioned by a commission lawyer and not cross-examined by lawyers for the victims’ families — but he could speak “hypothetically” to the issue of accommodations granted to witnesses generally.

“But just hypothetically, sometimes it is better to give the witness the security and predictability about what is going to happen,” said MacDonald. “In other words — I am not talking about Lisa Banfield, I am not talking about anybody — but if I say to you, ‘you are going to take the stand and you are going to be cross-examined,’ that may result in people being more defensive and less forthcoming [than] if you can give them predictability.”

MacDonald stressed that the commission wasn’t designed to find guilt or innocence, but rather, “we just need to find out what happened.”

“Having them clam up and [be] defensive while being cross-examined, and ‘Why are you asking me this?’ and ‘Why are you — ?'” continued MacDonald. “So it’s kind of like calling them in instead of calling them out.”

“And I don’t expect for you to agree with me,” added MacDonald.

Beaton seemed to accept that explanation, but he additionally had issues with the commission’s sometimes long-winded and seemingly tangential round-table discussions, “like child poverty.”

“Why was that in here?” asked Beaton. “Like to me — and no disrespect and no shade to that and like the women’s rights and, like the African heritage, and then the First Nations and they all — like all of that had anything to do with the 23 victims. Like there are 23 people and not one of them had anything to do with any of that and it’s just frustrating for me.”

Beaton considers his unborn child a 23rd victim.

MacDonald said that the Orders in Council that created the commission directed it to look at such issues, so the roundtables were necessary, even if they might strike some people as irrelevant.

Commissioner Leanne Fitch said that she has friends and family who have asked her the very same question, but she points to the foundational document entitled “Perpetuator’s Violence Towards Other People” as reason to consider such issues.

“When you read that and see, you know, the things that he did through his clinic and how he treated different people and the violence. And if, you know, people from the Black community or the Indigenous community or the LGBTQ community felt safe and coming to reporting to the RCMP or to, you know, the Social Services or Health or if they felt confident in institutions, then they would [have] share[d] information that we have learned through the commission that could have been shared, maybe, before.”

‘It just feels dismissive’

Beaton also complained about Commissioner Kim Stanton’s behaviour during the proceedings and during his interview.

“Like you’re — Stanton, like when you are sitting up there, like some of your — it almost seems like mocking and you are not hearing us. Like today, like eye-rolling or like smirking. It is upsetting to see.”

“This is near and dear to me,” continued Beaton. “This is my life. And there are just different things — it just almost feels like dismissive. Like, we are not being heard and it is not important. It was very upsetting, to the point of like, when I spoke out about Skipper Bent… is there something that is funny or you are like eye-rolling?”

The facilitator stopped Beaton, saying that Beaton was making a personal attack against Stanton.

“We care deeply,” MacDonald assured Beaton. “Please don’t read anything into her [Stanton’s] body language, my body language, or anybody else’s.”

“It’s just hard sitting back as me because this is my life,” said Beaton. “This is my world.”

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

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