Memorial in Portapique, NS, for the 22 victims of the April 2020 mass shooting.
Memorial in Portapique, NS, for the 22 victims of the April 2020 mass shooting. Photo: Joan Baxter Credit: Joan Baxter

Lisa Banfield and the RCMP officers who responded to the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020 will be required to testify under oath before the Mass Casualty Commission, the three commissioners ruled yesterday.

The decision mostly aligns with requests from the victims’ families, but lawyers representing the families say they are still worried about process issues.

Banfield was the common-law spouse of the killer, and told investigators that on April 18 the killer had attacked her but she managed to escape into the woods; hiding in the root structure of a large tree, she heard gunfire and explosions, and only came out of hiding at daylight.

After the murders, Banfield was criminally charged with providing ammunition to the killer. She was to stand trial later this month. Her lawyers said that given the pending court case, she would not agree to testify at the inquiry, but yesterday morning she agreed to a restorative justice plan that makes that upcoming trial moot and clears the way for her to testify before the commission.

“It has never been a matter of ‘if’ the Commission wants to hear from Lisa Banfield but rather how and when we can best do so,” wrote the commissioners in their decision. “We anticipate that we will hear from her (under subpoena as with all other witnesses) to address remaining questions, or to provide important context, later in our process.”

Banfield was interviewed by commission staff yesterday afternoon. No date for her testimony was set.

As well, the commissioners ruled that most of the police officers who responded to the murders, including their commanders, will be required to testify.

The first three RCMP constables on the ground in Portapique — Stuart Beselt, Aaron Patton, and Adam Merchant — will testify at the commissioners next public meeting, on March 28. They will testify together as a “witness panel.”

As well, a fourth officer, Cst. Vicki Colford, will be required to testify later this month. Colford established a road block at the top of Portapique Beach Road the night of the murders, and was told by Kate MacDonald about a second exit route from the community.

Deborah Thibeault a woman who lives on Cobequid Court, said that when she returned to Portapique on Monday, April 20, she saw that a rope that had been strung across the southern entrance to blueberry field road had been torn off its posts, as if someone had driven through it. This contradicts the statement of RCMP Sgt. Al Carroll, who said that on Sunday, April 19, he saw a locked chain across the entrance.

Thibeault will testify before the commission later this month. Carroll is not on the commission witness list.

Five RCMP officers in command positions during the murder spree  S/Sgt. Steve Halliday, S/Sgt. Brian Rehill, S/Sgt. Addie MacCallum, Sgt. Andy O’Brien, and S/Sgt. Jeff West will be required to testify, but not until late May, when the commission examines command decisions made.

Three other RCMP officers — Cst. Wayne Bent, Cst. Nathan Forrest, and Cpl. Jared MacDonald — will be required to appear before the commission, but a date has not been yet set for them to testify. The three were involved in the discovery of five victims’ bodies on Cobequid Court.

The commissioners said a handful of other RCMP officers and civilians do not need to be subpoenaed at this time, but they left open the possibility to call them at a later date.

Also, the commissioner ruled that at some later stage in the inquiry, they will compel testimony from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, and Superintendent Darren Campbell.

The commission does not have the power to subpoena two Americans who spoke with the killer via FaceTime on April 18 — Sean Conlogue and Angel Patterson — but the commissioners directed its investigators to try to gather more information from them.

While the commissioners’ decision mostly reflects the victims’ families’ desired witness list, the commission noted that “Questions for witnesses will be determined by Commission counsel in consultation with the counsel for Participants and, where it is appropriate, Participant counsel will be able to question witnesses themselves.”

This led to some confusion from the families’ lawyers, as the commission’s lawyers argued against hearing from most of the witnesses.

Do you have confidence that the commission’s counsel, which argued essentially that these people should not be subpoenaed, can do that on your behalf?” I asked Michael Scott, one of the lawyers for the families. “No,” he responded.

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

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