Nova Scotia mass shooting: lawyer says spouse of killer could face unfair trial

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A lawyer representing the spouse of the man who murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia said Monday her client's right to a fair trial could be jeopardized if portions of a redacted document are unsealed.

Lisa Banfield is among three people charged with unlawfully transferring ammunition to the gunman in the month before his rampage — but police have said she and the others had no prior knowledge of the gunman's actions.

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The document in question is a police application to obtain a search warrant for their investigation into the killings on April 18-19, 2020.

Banfield's lawyer, Jessica Zita, told provincial court Judge Laurie Halfpenny MacQuarrie that a redacted portion of the document in question includes key details about the Crown's case against her client, the release of which would undermine her right to a fair trial.

"I'm not disputing court openness principals," Zita told the court in Port Hawkesbury, N.S.

"The public does have a right to be informed, especially of an event ... that caused a seismic eruption to a small community so big it sent tremors nationwide ... What I am asking, your honour, is that you manage that right with Ms. Banfield's trial fairness rights."

Zita went on to say the release of the Crown's case "could jeopardize the integrity" of the justice system. "The strength of that argument lies in the fact that Ms. Banfield is not just simply an accused before this court. She's also a victim. Her situation is different from that of her co-accused."

Previously released court documents have revealed statements from Banfield saying she was attacked by her longtime partner on the night the shooting began. She also told police he had been abusive toward her in the past, though she didn't report any of the incidents.

Lawyer David Coles, who represents a consortium of media outlets, said Banfield's status as a victim was irrelevant to the case at hand. As well, he argued the release of the disputed information would not harm Banfield's right to a fair trial because the case will be heard by a judge alone and not a jury.

"How can my friends possibly say there is a serious risk that the judge will say, 'I don't have to pay attention to the evidence, I'll just read what's in the Globe and Mail or what's broadcast on the CBC and I'll let that be my decision,'" Coles told the court.

"That's not how it works."

Zita also argued that another redacted section should remain off limits to the public because it is covered by solicitor-client privilege, which refers to the fact that communications between a lawyer and their client must remain confidential.

Zita confirmed in court there was a solicitor-client relationship between Banfield and Kevin Von Bargen, a Toronto-based lawyer who gave a statement to police saying he had been friends with the killer.

On Feb. 19, the Crown released a series of warrant applications, know as Information to Obtain documents or ITOs, that included previously redacted information about Von Bargen. In the documents, Von Bargen said he spoke with Gabriel Wortman after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, saying his friend was convinced the global economy was about to implode.

As well, Von Bargen noted that his friend had withdrawn about $475,000 in cash a month before the rampage.

In court, Halfpenny MacQuarrie said she would release her decision on April 23 in Port Hawkesbury.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

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