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Former neighbour stands by story RCMP did ‘nothing’ on N.S. killer’s spousal abuse

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HALIFAX — A former neighbour of the man who carried out the 2020 Nova Scotia mass killing stood by her story on Tuesday that RCMP did “nothing” when she reported a violent domestic assault years before the rampage.

Brenda Forbes said, “You bet,” when she was asked at a public inquiry if she still holds that view, despite a differing story from the RCMP investigating officer at the time.

Forbes, a military veteran in her 60s, testified under oath at a public inquiry that she’d told two “young” constables about a violent assault by the killer against his spouse, Lisa Banfield, in the summer of 2013, and that she and her husband had seen weapons at the killer’s home.

In previous statements to media after the April 2020 murders of 22 people, Forbes had said the RCMP didn’t follow up after hearing her account when she met them at her workplace in Debert, N.S.

Forbes told the inquiry Tuesday that she’d been told about the assault by the killer’s uncle, Glynn Wortman. She said she’d called Glynn Wortman in front of the officers, put him on speakerphone, and that the uncle refused to speak directly to them because he feared Gabriel Wortman would kill him.

“Nothing was ever done. Nothing. Zip,” she testified on Tuesday.

Retired RCMP constable Troy Maxwell told the public inquiry in an interview that when he spoke to Forbes on July 6, 2013, it was a complaint about the killer “tearing around” the neighbourhood in an unmarked police car. Maxwell hasn’t yet testified under oath.

“When I look back at this instance, and remember everything that I remember, there was no allegation of any kind of domestic. There was no allegation of any other kind of complaint other than him driving around in the old, decommissioned police car,” Maxwell told the inquiry’s interviewers on April 29.

However, his handwritten notes from July 6, 2013, entered as evidence include the name of Glynn Wortman as well as those of Forbes and Gabriel Wortman, with “Lisa” written in brackets in the margin. Questioned by inquiry investigators, Maxwell said he didn’t know who Glynn Wortman was and that he wrote down “Lisa” because Forbes had said that was the name of Gabriel Wortman’s wife.

Glynn Wortman provided police with an account of the assault when he spoke to them in May 2020, saying he and a couple of friends were drinking beer at Wortman’s property, and he left after Wortman made a crude comment about Banfield.

The uncle said he went to check on Banfield a while later, because he knew Wortman was “off the rails,” and as he approached through the woods to Wortman’s property he saw him straddling on top of her, “strangling her, choking the s–t out of her.”

During cross-examination by a lawyer for the federal Justice Department — which represents the RCMP — Forbes said that though the killer threatened her after she reported the assault, she didn’t call police again.

“The reason I didn’t report this to the police was … I lost a lot of respect for the police. I didn’t think anything would ever get done,” she testified.

Forbes also testified her first awareness of Wortman’s domestic violence was in the years after they moved to Portapique in 2002, when Banfield came to her door and asked for help after she’d been assaulted by the killer. Forbes said she encouraged her neighbour to seek help but recalled that she was frightened of her partner, who had threatened her family.

“She was definitely afraid he would go after her,” she said, testifying from her home in Alberta.

George Forbes, Brenda’s husband, hasn’t given sworn testimony. However, he has said in an interview that at one point when the couple were in Wortman’s garage in 2002 or 2003, Wortman opened up “a couple of boxes” containing firearms. He said the weapons “weren’t your normal weapon you’d buy at a gun show,” and they looked like handguns.

The RCMP did not seek a search warrant for weapons at Gabriel Wortman’s residence before the mass shooting, according to evidence presented to the inquiry to date.

Evidence has been presented that in 2010, after Glynn Wortman reported to police that his nephew was threatening to kill his parents in Moncton, N.B., police decided against seeking a search warrant because it had been more than five years since the killer’s father, Paul Wortman, had seen weapons in the residence.

Brenda Forbes testified that after she reported the assault of Lisa Banfield to police, her fear of the killer grew, and she and her husband decided to sell their home, moving first to Truro, then to Halifax and — after encountering the killer in Halifax — to Alberta.

Forbes became emotional as she testified over her regrets at not telling the purchasers of her home, John Zahl and Joanne Thomas, about the danger she believed Gabriel Wortman posed to the community.

“The people that bought it, he killed them and he burnt the house down,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2022.

 

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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B.C. ‘clear’ there’s not enough housing as Vancouver encampment ordered dismantled

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s acting attorney general says the province was “clear” with Vancouver officials that the Crown corporation responsible for subsidized housing does not have enough spaces available for people who are being told to dismantle their tents along a street in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Murray Rankin, who is also the minister responsible for housing, says housing is a human right, and the “deeply concerning scenes from Hastings Street demonstrate how much more work we have to do to make that a reality for everyone in our communities.”

Rankin in a statement Friday says BC Housing has accelerated efforts to secure new housing for encampment residents including pursuing new sites to lease or buy and expediting renovations on single-room occupancy units as they become vacant.

He says BC Housing is aiming to make a “limited number” of renovated units available next week, with more opening later in the fall.

Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents set up along Hastings Street sidewalks dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.

Police blocked traffic Tuesday as city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process of dismantling the encampment but little had changed by the end of the week with most residents staying put, saying they have nowhere to go.

The city has said staff plan to approach encampment residents with “respect and sensitivity” to encourage the voluntary removal of their tents and belongings.

Community advocacy groups, including the Vancouver Area of Drug Users and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.

The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.

The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.

The province is not involved in the fire chief’s order or the enforcement of local bylaws, which prohibit structures on sidewalks, but it is “bringing all of BC Housing’s resources to bear to do what we can to secure housing for people, Rankin said.

“I recognize the profound uncertainty and upheaval people impacted by the fire order are facing, and we will provide updates on this work as we have news to share,” he said.

Rankin, who had been serving as minister of Indigenous relations, was appointed acting attorney general after David Eby stepped down to run for leadership of the B.C. NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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N.W.T. RCMP deploy controversial roadside cannabis screening devices

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YELLOWKNIFE — RCMP in the Northwest Territories have begun using roadside cannabis-screening technology that has faced criticism from defence lawyers elsewhere in Canada.

Mounties in the territory announced late last month that they had deployed devices designed to take a saliva sample and test for the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. They said the technology would help them detect impaired drivers and make roads safer.

But some criminal defence lawyers have raised concerns about these devices’ ability to deliver reliable test results, particularly in cold temperatures. They argue the technology isn’t effective at determining whether someone is impaired.

“It can lead to people being arrested who are actually innocent,” said Kyla Lee, a lawyer based in Vancouver.

Lee said research has shown the devices may be more likely to deliver false results in extreme cold temperatures, and movement during analysis could also affect outcomes. She added that while the devices can deliver either a positive or negative test result, they do not indicate how much THC may be in a person’s bloodstream.

Lee recently represented a Nova Scotia woman in a constitutional challenge of the law that allows for roadside drug testing technology in Canada.

Michelle Gray, who uses cannabis for multiple sclerosis, had her car impounded and her licence suspended for a week after she failed a cannabis saliva test at a roadside checkpoint in 2019, even though she passed a sobriety test that same night.

“The technology just doesn’t exist yet to allow police to make a determination of impairment via drugs using physical equipment,” Lee said.

Lee is awaiting a decision on the constitutional challenge in Nova Scotia. She said she expects there will be further court challenges in other Canadian jurisdictions where these devices are used, including the Northwest Territories.

There are two devices approved for roadside cannabis screening in Canada: the Drager DrugTest 5000 and the Abbott SoToxa mobile test system. The companies that manufacture the devices recommend they be used in temperatures no lower than 4 C and 5 C, respectively.

Cpl. Andree Sieber of the Regina Police Service, which began using roadside devices to detect cannabis use in early 2020, said officers bring drivers to their vehicles for testing to prevent issues with weather conditions or temperatures.

“We’ve used it throughout all seasons here in Regina,” she said. “We have very cold winters and some pretty nasty, snowy cold days and you have the person attend back to your vehicle with you where it’s heated and it’s not an issue.”

Sieber said the more THC a person has consumed, the more likely they are to show signs of impairment and to test positive.

The RCMP said roadside screening devices are just one tool they use to detect and investigate drug-impaired drivers alongside officers’ observations. They said field sobriety testing and drug recognition experts remain the primary enforcement tools.

“Police officers rely on what they see and hear, as well as what they smell when investigating impaired drivers,” the RCMP said in a written statement. “Regardless of how a drug is consumed, there are signs of that consumption and police are trained to recognized them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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More Canadians report stronger attachment to their language than to Canada: poll – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

A new survey finds more Canadians report a strong attachment to their primary language than to other markers of identity, including the country they call home.

The survey, which was conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies, found 88 per cent of respondents reported a strong sense of attachment to their primary language, whereas 85 per cent reported the same for Canada.

The greater importance of language was especially notable among francophones and Indigenous Peoples.

Reports of strong attachment to primary language exceeded all other markers of identity, including geography, ethnic group, racialized identity and religious affiliation.

Of the markers of identity considered in the survey, Canadians were the least likely to report a strong sense of attachment to a religious group.

Association for Canadian Studies president Jack Jedwab said the survey’s findings highlight the important role language plays in people’s identities.

“I think many Canadians may be surprised by it, who may not think intuitively that language is as important as other expressions of identity that get attention,” he said.

Jedwab said people should be mindful of not downplaying the importance of language given how significant language can be to a community. He said language has a dual function of facilitating communication and being an expression of culture.

“There can be a tendency for people to diminish the importance of other languages,” he said.

“We’ve not paid historically sufficient attention to Indigenous languages, which we’re now seeing our federal government invest considerably in, trying to help sustain and revive Indigenous languages,” he added.

The online survey was completed by 1,764 Canadians between July 8 and 10. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random samples.

For Canadians whose primary language is French, 91 per cent reported a strong sense of attachment to their language, in comparison to 67 per cent who reported the same sentiment for Canada.

In Quebec, more people reported a strong sense of attachment to their primary language than to the province.

Only 37 per cent of Canadians reported a strong sense of attachment to a religious group.

The findings come ahead of Statistics Canada’s latest census release on languages in the country, which is set to be published on Wednesday.

Jedwab said the census release will be especially important to Quebec, where there’s a close monitoring of the state of the French language in comparison to other languages.

The Leger survey also found more than half of francophone Quebecers say they know English well enough to hold a conversation. That’s in contrast to less than one in 10 English respondents in all provinces except Quebec and New Brunswick who say they can hold a conversation in French.

According to the last census, English-French bilingualism rose from 17.5 per cent in 2011 to 17.9 per cent in 2016, reaching the highest rate of bilingualism in Canadian history. Over 60 per cent of that growth in bilingualism was attributable to Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022. 

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