Hand-written message "Portapique forever in our hearts" written on a placard in the Portapique memorial community church hall in June 2020, surrounded by Nova Scotia flags and flowers. Photo: Joan Baxter
“Portapique forever in our hearts” at Portapique memorial community church hall, June 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

Some people who lived in Portapique and socialized with GW, the gunman who shot and killed 22 people in Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2020, recall him as a “very nice guy” who was “polite,” “cordial,” “always laughing” and “light-hearted,” if a little “flirtatious” from time to time.

Brenda Forbes is not one of them.

In an interview with the RCMP just days after the tragedy, Forbes — who goes by the nickname Boe — said she knew a “psychopath” when she saw one.

It is the same word she used to describe GW in an interview with the Halifax Examiner in May that year.

Her husband, George Forbes, believes GW was trying to snap up all the property he could in the area, and said he seemed intent on becoming the “King of Portapique.”

He said GW cultivated “minions” in the community, getting people to do odd jobs for him; he would then reward their loyalty with booze and they would all drink together.

“He was happy with that lifestyle,” according to George Forbes. “I call it the Boss Hogg type of guy, and he’s got the little yappy dogs all around.”

Brenda and George Forbes describe a man who was violent with and extremely controlling of his girlfriend, Lisa Banfield, who was too afraid to leave GW for fear of what he would do to her and her family.

This information comes from transcripts of four interviews with Brenda and George Forbes released this week by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), which has turned its attention to GW’s violent behaviour towards others, and how he was able to elude police investigation despite a long history of violent and threatening behaviour and illicit activities involving gun smuggling from the United States.

The transcripts are from RCMP interviews with Brenda Forbes on April 22, 2020 and George Forbes on April 23 about their experience over 12 years with GW, another interview with the couple by Sergeant Colin Kuca of the RCMP Serious Crime unit in May 2020, and then an interview with the Forbes by MCC investigators Emily Hill and Paul Thompson in August 2021.

The transcripts paint a terrifying picture of a man who made Brenda, a veteran of Canada’s military, fear for her life, so much so that she and her husband left Portapique, selling their property there in 2015 at a loss of about $100,000.

First they moved to Halifax, but Brenda Forbes was still afraid she might run into GW, as his home and denturist business were in Dartmouth.

So in 2019, the Forbes moved to western Canada.

‘Warning signs’

When Brenda and George Forbes chose a plot of land in Portapique, and then designed and had a log cabin built in 2002, they thought it would be their “forever home.”

After many years in the military (40 for George, 30 for Brenda), which involved a lot of moving about the country and serving overseas, the Forbes were happy to settle in Portapique, close to Five Houses where George had had a cottage before he joined the military, and to Hilden, south of Truro, where his parents lived.

The Forbes moved into their Portapique home in the summer of 2002, and the following year met GW, who came by on a motorcycle with Lisa Banfield on the back, looking for information about the area.

George Forbes told him about a place for sale at 200 Portapique Beach Road, and for a while after GW bought and refurbished the property, the Forbes would join other neighbours at “Gabe’s” for weekend “fire pit” parties.

Portapique Beach Rd sign and RCMP car April 25, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

However, even then George was seeing “warning signs.”

George told the RCMP that GW was always “probing” about his work as a small arms instructor and advanced reconnaissance instructor for the military, and also asked if George could get him some ammunition.

“No I won’t,” George replied.

When George challenged GW for firing off his gun from his deck while he was drinking, pointing out that bullets could ricochet and it was a residential area, GW dismissed his concerns, saying, “Oh that’s not a big deal. We knew what we were doing.”

George told the RCMP that in 2007 or 2008, GW showed himself and Brenda several illegal weapons, including a “Russian – Eastern European type pistol,” as well as “a shotgun, a 12-guage, and a rifle,” and that none were locked up or secure.

“He pulled the gun out with the magazine still in it,” George said. There was no pistol lock, and GW kept it in a tool drawer in his shed.

When the Forbes asked him where he got the weapons, GW replied, “Oh, I have my connections.”

“We should have reported that right away,” Brenda Forbes said. But at the time, they didn’t think about it because, “we were just saying, ‘it’s Gabe.’”

George described GW as a “wheeler dealer,” a “manipulator” who did a lot of “swindling,” using cash and doing deals “under the table,” a “WIIFM” (What’s-In-It-For-Me?) person.

GW boasted to George that he had made money while a student in New Brunswick by smuggling cigarettes across the U.S. border, and that made George wonder where he was getting his illegal guns.

The Forbes also recall neighbourhood parties when, if GW didn’t feel he was getting enough attention, he would “grab” Banfield by the arm and force her to leave with him.

“She would start … you could see it in her face. She was scared to death of him,” Brenda told the MCC in August 2021.

George said GW drank “way too much,” and occasionally claimed to go “on the wagon,” for a week or a week and a half, before starting again.

All of these things suggested a “pattern,” George Forbes said, and made the Forbes decide to distance themselves from GW.

‘He beat the crap out of her’

Brenda Forbes told the RCMP that from the start she thought GW “was a little off,” and said it didn’t take long for them “to figure him out.”

And it wasn’t long after GW moved in with Lisa Banfield that he “started abusing her.” According to Brenda Forbes, GW:

… beat the crap out of her one day and she ran to my house. I told her that she needed to get help and there were places out there that she could hide from him, he wouldn’t find her. But she told me point blank she was too scared to leave because he would find her and kill her.

Brenda Forbes said GW had used his truck to block Banfield’s car in the driveway so she couldn’t get away.

Speaking to the MCC in 2021, Brenda said that if GW said “jump” Banfield would say “how high?”

“That’s how controlled she was by him. And I feel bad for her, I really do,” Brenda said.

Brenda Forbes later became friends with GW’s uncle, Glynn Wortman, who had moved to Portapique from Edmonton, persuaded to do so by his nephew who advanced the funds for the down payment on the home, and then put his own name on the deed.

She told the RCMP that in 2013, she let Glynn know that GW was cheating on Banfield, bringing “a shitload” of women and girls he picked up in a bar in Truro back to Portapique.

After Glynn told GW about this, GW “dragged” Banfield to Forbes’ house, holding Lisa by the arm, and threatened Brenda, saying, “You’re gonna regret this.”

After that, Brenda said GW would drive up to her house and stare at it for up to a half hour at a time.

“It scared the be-jesus out of me,” Brenda told the RCMP. “We both had FAC’s [weapons permits] and we both had our weapons and stuff … I don’t care, he still scared me.”

The complaint to the RCMP

And then came another incident in 2013, which Brenda Forbes recounted this way to the MCC in August 2021:

Dave Ellison and Richard Ellison and Glynn Wortman, they were out in the back part of the property that Gabriel had … And he had Lisa down on the ground choking her. And the guys, the three guys, they were trying to get Gabriel to stop. And she piped up and said, “Don’t say anything else because it’ll only get worse.” Glynn told me this. So I said, “Oh, my God.” So I … I was at work and I said, “That’s it, I’m calling the RCMP.” So I called the RCMP. I was at the cadet camp in Debert and they came down, there were two of them … And I told them what Glynn had told me. And they said, Well, would he be willing to speak to us?” And I said, “Just give me a second.” …. I called Glynn, I said, “Glynn, would you be willing to tell the RCMP what happened with Lisa and all the illegal weapons and stuff that he has?” He said, “No, because he’s already told me he’s killed somebody in the United States, and if I say anything, he’ll kill me.” And the RCMP heard every word of that.

The MCC Foundational Document on the perpetrator’s violent behaviour towards others, states that, “RCMP records confirm that Forbes contacted the RCMP on July 6, 2013. The officer who took the report, Cst. [Constable] Troy Maxwell, said that the report was not about domestic violence.”

When GW found out she had reported him to the RCMP, he again came to her house, and threatened he would “take” her out. “You’re going to be gone,” Brenda Forbes remembers him saying.

‘I’d be dead now’

In her interview with the Mass Casualty Commission, Brenda Forbes said the RCMP didn’t act on her complaint because they told her they “actually had to have proof” of the allegations about the assault on Lisa Banfield and the illegal weapons.

She explained that there was no way Banfield would come forward, and as for the weapons complaint, “What am I going to do, take pictures of it?” she said. “So basically they [the RCMP] let it go.”

During the Forbes’ May 2020 interview with the RCMP Serious Crimes unit, Sergeant Colin Kuca asked them if the police had ever followed up on Brenda Forbes’ complaint about GW’s assault on Banfield and the illegal weapons. This is part of the exchange that followed:

Brenda Forbes: Nope, not at all.

Colin Kuca: And you certainly didn’t get any call back from the police officers themselves, saying, “Hey, this is what we did.”

Brenda Forbes: No.

Colin Kuca:  But what they did tell you if I understand correctly is, they provided you somewhat of a reason why they couldn’t really do anything about your suggestions that he had guns.

Brenda Forbes: Yeah, yeah.

Colin Kuca: …and they kind of suggested to you they might not be able to do much with the assault thing.

Brenda Forbes: Yeah, she’s [Banfield’s] not gonna say anything … and they actually said they were going to monitor him [GW].”

Colin Kuca: Right. OK. Whatever that means. OK. … so if I were to ask you …where Gabriel or Lisa [sic] spoken directly to by the RCMP following your complaint, do you have any idea?

Brenda Forbes: No. Not at all.

Colin Kuca: … if the RCMP had spoken to Gabriel …

Brenda Forbes [interrupting]: I’d be dead now … I would not be here … unless I had enough time to get (makes a gun noise).

‘They wouldn’t say boo’

Brenda Forbes told the RCMP that she warned everyone in Portapique about GW, but they ignored her. “He was feeding them all booze,” she said.

“So they wouldn’t say boo,” George added.

Brenda Forbes said most of them just “slammed” her, saying “that’s all garbage.”

In her interview with the MCC in 2021, Brenda Forbes said people would say to her, “No, he’s such a nice guy. He’s doing all this for us and everything. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Brenda said she was ostracized for speaking out.

In 2014, Brenda decided she had to get out of Portapique. Her husband was absent on months-long missions in Africa, and she was alone in the house, often hiding her vehicle so that GW would not know when she was home.

Portapique memorial community church hall in June 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

Not a ‘forever home’ after all

“So we sold our home,” Brenda told the MCC:

And that hurts me, not because we sold the house, but I should have warned the people that bought it what he [GW] was like when they came here from New Mexico. When they came, I introduced them to the good people that were there, but I did not tell them about Gabriel. And I should have because he, when I went to sell the house I made it the codicil that if he wants to buy it, no way. And that pissed him off. He wanted the house.

Forbes told the RCMP that the reason GW killed the people who bought her house, and then burned it down, was not because of them, but because she refused to sell it to him.

“He took the houses down because of people that pissed him off,” Forbes said.

“It breaks my heart.”

When the MCC asked her in 2021 what she hoped could come out of this tragedy, Brenda replied that she would like to see “more support for women that are abused.”

“Abused or in a situation they can’t get out of,” George added.

Brenda told the MCC she believes there is a need for new laws as well:

When I reported that he had weapons and all that stuff, a new law should come out somehow that if a person reports something like that, they have to go and investigate, not just say, “Oh, we can’t do that.” Like … when I said she was being beaten and stuff, “Well, she has to come here.” No, if I told you, you go check it out, that’s the way it should be.”


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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. Joan Baxter, you wrote: “First they moved to Halifax, but Brenda Forbes was still afraid she might run into GW, as his home and denturist business were in Dartmouth.” On July 12, 2022 at the MCC public inquiry, Brenda Forbes stated they first moved to Truro. Please explain this discrepancy.

    1. The information in this article, as it clearly states in the article that was published before yesterday’s testimony, “comes from transcripts of four interviews with Brenda and George Forbes released this week by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), which has turned its attention to GW’s violent behaviour towards others, and how he was able to elude police investigation despite a long history of violent and threatening behaviour and illicit activities involving gun smuggling from the United States.

      The transcripts are from RCMP interviews with Brenda Forbes on April 22, 2020 and George Forbes on April 23 about their experience over 12 years with GW, another interview with the couple by Sergeant Colin Kuca of the RCMP Serious Crime unit in May 2020, and then an interview with the Forbes by MCC investigators Emily Hill and Paul Thompson in August 2021.”