Timeline: What's happened in the year since the Nova Scotia mass shooting tragedy
HALIFAX -- The moment the man responsible for Canada’s worst mass killing was shot and killed at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. on April 19, 2020, his rampage of terror ended – but a year of grief and questions began.
Here are some of the key moments that have taken place since that day.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
The Nova Scotia RCMP hold its first news conference on the tragedy at its headquarters in Dartmouth Sunday evening.
“Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and it will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come,” said commanding RCMP officer Lee Bergerman.
“What has unfolded overnight and into this morning is incomprehensible and many families are experiencing the loss of a loved one.”
Police confirmed that Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force, died Sunday morning while responding to the active shooter incident.
They said a male RCMP officer was also taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
That day, Chief Supt. Chris Leather said investigators believed at least 18 people had been killed, but also said, “We're not fully aware of what that total may be because, as we're standing here, the investigation continues into areas that we've not yet explored across the province."
Leather said police first responded to a firearms complaint at a residence in Portapique, N.S. late Saturday evening after receiving several 911 calls.
He said officers started searching for the suspect, but didn't find him.
Questions begin to surface around why a province-wide emergency alert wasn’t issued to warn people of a shooter on the loose in the area.
Instead, the RCMP had communicated information about the situation through social media sites, including Twitter.
Monday, April 20, 2020
RCMP investigators continued to try to piece together what happened, starting in the small rural community of Portapique, N.S.
Chief Supt. Chris Leather told a news conference Monday that the crime scenes include five fires where it was believed more victims coudl be found.
He also said the province’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team, would be investigating two instances of use of force by the RCMP.
One involved the shooting death of the gunman.
The other incident involved police gunfire that took place outside the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade Hall the morning of April 19, while it was occupied by staff and citizens while being used as a refuge center for residents of Portapique.
Messages of support were flooding in from all over the country, as families of the victims tried to deal with the grief of their sudden loss, although some family members reported still waiting to hear about their loved ones.
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
The RCMP confirmed there were 22 victims of the mass shooting, and were investigating at 16 different crime scenes throughout Colchester County.
The Nova Scotia Premier at the time, Stephen McNeil, addressed questions at a COVID-19 update about the lack of an emergency alert.
He said the province’s Emergency Management Office had staff in place, ready to send an alert out, but never received the official request and wording of an alert from RCMP.
“The reason why the RCMP didn’t ask would be a question for them and not for us,” McNeil said.
Meanwhile, the RCMP officer shot and injured during the police pursuit of the gunman wrote a message on Facebook, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
Const. Chad Morrison was released from hospital Monday after being treated for gunshot wounds.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Halifax Regional Police removed a decorative smile, dentures, and exterior signage that was affixed outside the denture clinic run by the gunman.
In the community where the shooting began, the Canadian military has been called in to help the Nova Scotia RCMP investigate one of the largest mass murders in the country's history.
A man from the area started to create a temporary memorial site to the victims at the old Portapique church, as flowers and mementoes of condolence formed a large makeshift memorial at the end of Portapique Beach Road.
Support for the families of the victims continued to pour in from through the province, the country, and the world.
Even amidst the grief, family members spoke out, raising questions about the RCMP response.
“I feel like something could have been done to warn people he was in a cop car, for one,” said Tyler Blair, whose father and stepmother, Greg and Jamie Blair, were killed at their Portapique home.
Nova Scotia RCMP launched a tip line for information related to the tragedy.
Friday, April 24, 2020
Nova Scotia RCMP held a news conference, releasing details on what investigators determined to that point.
Supt. Darren Campbell spoke about the impact of Wortman having the replica police cruiser.
"I've been a police officer for almost 30 years now and I can't imagine any more horrific set of circumstances, than when you're trying to search for someone that looks like you and the dangers that that causes, the complications that that causes," he said.
In the meantime, residents of several Colchester County communities joined together to organize a virtual vigil to honour the lives of the people killed. Pandemic restrictions meant groups were not allowed to gather together in person.
The "Nova Scotia Remembers" vigil was broadcast online and, on several radio and television stations, and people watched from throughout the country.
The vigil several touching tributes to the lives lost, including a virtual duet between acclaimed Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster, playing along with a video of young Emily Tuck. Tuck was killed the year she was to graduate high school.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Families and legal experts started raising the idea of holding a public inquiry to investigate the circumstances around the mass shooting.
Archie Kaiser, a professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law, says the Premier could have justice officials begin the groundwork under the Public Inquiries Act.
McNeil had said he asked Attorney General Mark Furey, a former RCMP officer, to look into the possibility of an inquiry.
A Canadian Red Cross fund formed in partnership with the Government of Nova Scotia, the “Stronger Together” fund, began raising money for the immediate and long-term needs of the those affected by the tragedy.
In the end, the fund raised $6.2 million.
May 11, 2020
The RCMP released more information about the investigation.
It said the massive operation -- named H-Strong -- involves specialized officers and resources from across Canada.
The RCMP said its behavioral analysis unit was conducting a psychological autopsy of the shooter.
The RCMP said he was in possession of two semi-automatic handguns and two semi-automatic rifles when he left the Portapique, N.S., area on April 18.
One gun has been traced to Canada. Investigators believed the other three weapons were obtained in the United States.
May 19, 2020
As questions around the RCMP handling of the tragedy continued, a survivor who was in Portapique the night the killing began spoke out.
Leon Joudrey experienced the trauma of having his friends and neighbors around him killed. The night of April 18, he had actually spent some time with Greg and Jamie Blair at their home before calling it a night and going to bed.
An early riser, Joudrey said he got up around 3:30 a.m. on April 19 to walk his dogs. That’s when he said he saw a message on his phone about fires in the area.
“I went for a drive. It’s only a few hundred yards out to Portapique Road … seen a little bit of flame and a SWAT vehicle and I knew it was Gabriel’s house,” recalled Joudrey.
He described a chaotic scene, during which none of the officers in the community would tell him what was going on.
Joudrey hid in his home, until there was a knock on his door later that morning. He said it was the shooter’s common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield. She told him she had been hiding in the woods all night, and Joudrey called 911.
Police had said earlier that Banfield had been assaulted by the gunman before she escaped him.
May 25, 2020
Several media organizations, including CTV, received new information after applying to the Nova Scotia courts for access to documents related to the investigation,.
The documents reveal the RCMP recently seized and searched the killer's computer, cellphone, tablet and navigation devices.
The first set of search warrants, unsealed by a judge, did not provide details about what police found because they were heavily redacted due to the ongoing police investigation.
The RCMP documents said police seized a Samsung cellphone, Toshiba laptop, Acer tablet, a data-storage card and a Garmin global positioning device from the gunman's denture clinic in Dartmouth, N.S., on April 20, the day after he was killed by police.
The court application to release information continued to reveal more details over the remaining course of the year.
June 9, 2020
Three Nova Scotia senators called on the province to join with Ottawa to launch a joint inquiry into the mass shooting in April that claimed the lives of 22 people, and said the investigation must address related social issues through a "feminist lens."
Senators Mary Coyle, Colin Deacon and Stan Kutcher issued a statement Tuesday confirming they have sent a letter outlining their request to federal Public Safety Bill Blair and Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey.
Furey had said earlier in the month there would be a joint federal-provincial inquiry into the mass shooting.
June 17, 2020
One of the lawyers representing families of the victims filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the RCMP and the province.
The representative plaintiffs in the proposed lawsuit are Tyler Blair and Andrew O'Brien.
According to a news release from Patterson Law, the firm handling the application to the court, the claim alleged the Nova Scotia RCMP failed to "protect the safety and security of the public" during the mass shooting.
It was the second proposed class action launched by the families. The first was filed in May, and seeks damages against the $1.2 million estate of the shooter. It was later amended to also seek damages against gunman’s common-law spouse, her brother, and brother-in-law.
July 22, 2020
Families of the victims organized a march in Bible Hill, N.S. after growing frustrated over delays in the announcement of any kind of public inquiry into the tragedy.
The march was attended by almost 300 supporters.
Relatives carried signs in memory of each victim and chanted, "We demand answers" as they walked the three blocks. Children carried photographs of lost grandmothers as their parents pushed them in strollers.
Tom Webber, the father of victim Joey Webber, said he had specific questions about how the killer managed to escape from Portapique.
His son was killed on April 19 during an errand to pick up furnace oil in Shubenacadie, N.S., and the killer stole Joey Webber's car.
"The police don't seem to give us any answers, and that's what we're looking for," Webber said.
July 24, 2020
Thursday, the provincial and federal governments announced an independent three-member panel would review the mass killing.
The panel was to be led by the former chief justice of Nova Scotia, Michael MacDonald, who will be joined by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of police in Fredericton.
The decision didn’t sit well with many families of the victims, who had been pushing for a public inquiry.
"We're disappointed," said Darcy Dobson, whose mother, Heather O'Brien, was killed in the deadly rampage. "It's a slap in the face for sure."
Women's rights advocates in Atlantic Canada called on people across the country to join a brief general strike on Monday in protest of the decision.
July 27, 2020
Protesters gathered at two Nova Scotia locations to pressure Ottawa and the province to hold a full public inquiry.
About 100 people met in Bridgewater, N.S., for a march to the office of the province's justice minister. About the same number gathered for a rally organized by women's centres and feminist groups at a Halifax park.
The protests followed the announcement by the provincial and federal governments of an independent review, which has been criticized by relatives of the 22 victims as lacking transparency and authority.
July 28, 2020
Five Liberal MPs from Nova Scotia began calling for an independent public inquiry into the mass shooting.
The mounting public pressure led Ottawa and the province to reverse course and announced a full public inquiry, with details to be released at a later date.
Then-Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil apologized to the families, saying, “Families were not happy, we understood that.”
“We know we created anxiety over the last number of days and for that I’m sorry,” he told CTV Atlantic anchor Steve Murphy.
Aug. 12, 2020
The woman who was a long-time common-law partner of the man responsible for Nova Scotia’s mass killing in April applied to sue his estate for damages.
Documents filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia gave notice to the late shooter’s estate of the claim for damages related to “assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of mental suffering.”
The claim stated she and the gunman were together at one of his properties in Portapique on April 18. She says on that same day, he assaulted her, and falsely imprisoned her.
Oct. 22, 2020
Ottawa released details on the joint federal-provincial judicial inquiry into the tragedy.
The announcement said the terms of reference were complete, a third commissioner was chosen and the commission was set to begin its work.
A release said Kim Stanton would join chief commissioner Michael MacDonald, a retired chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and Leanne Fitch, a former chief of police in Fredericton.
Stanton is a lawyer and the former legal director of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund.
The Mass Casualty Commission is expected to submit two reports on their findings, lessons learned and recommendations, with an interim report by May 1, 2022 and a final report by Nov. 1, 2022.
The Commission’s hearings have yet to begin.
Dec. 4, 2020
Three people -- including the gunman’s common-law partner -- were charged with providing ammunition to the Nova Scotia man responsible for Canada’s worst mass murder.
Lisa Diana Banfield, 52, and James Blair Banfield, 64, both of Dartmouth, and Brian Brewster, 60, of Sackville, were each charged with unlawfully transferring ammunition.
Banfield is the common-law partner of the shooter.
CTV News also learned James Banfield is the brother of Lisa Banfield.
It’s the first time police laid charges in the killings. Police said the three charged had no prior knowledge of the gunman’s actions.
One of the people charged, James Blair Banfield, has since entered a not-guilty plea. The others have not entered their pleas in court at this time.
Jan. 22, 2021
Federal public Safety Minister Bill Blair suspended the sale of decommissioned RCMP vehicles, two days after a man in Nova Scotia was arrested for allegedly impersonating an officer while driving a fake police car.
It also came after growing criticism from family members after a replica RCMP cruiser was used by a gunman who killed 22 people in Nova Scotia.
Feb. 11, 2021
Newly released details from court documents outlined what the gunman’s common-law spouse told police about the night the killer’s rampage began.
According to Banfield's account, an argument started during an evening party to celebrate their 19th anniversary at the "warehouse," one of the buildings the gunman owned in Portapique, N.S.
"Banfield went to bed and Gabriel Wortman came in and ripped the blankets off her and started to beat her up ... told her to get dressed and said, 'It's done,'" according to the document.
It said the killer poured gasoline around the cottage, told Banfield to get a gun out of the cottage and then made her walk in front of him towards the warehouse in order to pour gasoline on it as well.
The statement says he "ripped her shoes off her feet." At one point, she started to run from him but tripped and fell.
"(He) picked her up by the hair and started pulling her towards the warehouse. (He) tried to handcuff her but only got one handcuff on and then he started shooting at the ground around her," the document says.
According to the statement, she escaped after he put her in the back of his police car.
Mar. 2, 2021
A six-page report by Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) cleared RCMP officers involved in gunfire at the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade Hall April 19 of any criminal wrongdoing.
SIRT found just before two RCMP officers opened fire on a fellow officer and a civilian at the hall, they thought a man wearing a bright vest was the killer.
The six-page report by the Serious Incident Response Team says the evidence led the officers to believe the killer was standing just 88 metres away from them on the morning of April 19.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade said it was "frustrated and disappointed that there will be no accountability for the RCMP.”
Mar. 4, 2021
Two Halifax-area developers announced their plan to demolish the former Dartmouth home and office of the gunman.
Elliot MacNeil and Troy Grant successfully bid on the Portland Street property for $1.5 million -- $300,000 higher than its initial listing price – and said they plan to replace it with a 150-unit apartment complex.
Mar. 11, 2021
Nova Scotia’s Liberal government tabled legislation prohibiting the sale, reproduction, and possession of police items such as uniforms, badges, marked vehicles and equipment.
If passed, the Police Identity Management Act would require police departments throughout the province to have procedures in place to track and dispose of equipment.
The proposed legislation would make it illegal to possess police vehicle markings or equipment, except in certain cases, such as for use in a film production or in a museum.
It would also prohibit anyone who is not a police officer or a police cadet from having police articles or uniforms in their possession.
Anyone found in violation of the Act would be subject to a fine of up to $10,000, a jail sentence of up to three months, or both.
A company found in violation of the Act would face a fine up to $25,000.
Apr. 8, 2021
The Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society announced details of memorial events planned to mark one year since the April tragedy.
It said family members of victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting would gather in a Truro, N.S., church on April 18 to remember their lost loved ones.
The closed event, organized by volunteers with the non-profit society, will scheduled to be livestreamed.
In a news release, the Society also released information about the memorial marathon to take place the morning of April 18, starting in at the Portapique Hall. Money raised by the marathon will go towards the establishment of a permanent memorial to honour the victims.
It also created a commemorative walk for the public, with memorial markers dedicated to the lives lost, in Truro’s Victoria Park.