From inquest to inquiry: part two

It wasn’t long after the mass casualty event of April 18/19, 2020, that the first whispers, soon to become verified reports, emerged about the abuse to which the perpetrator responsible for killing 22 people in rural Nova Scotia had subjected his long-time intimate partner, Lisa Banfield.

Disturbingly, it didn’t take long for some family members of the shooting victims to begin their attack on Banfield as having been complicit with the perpetrator. Indeed, she was criminally charged with having allegedly obtained ammunition for the perpetrator, even though police freely admitted she had not known what the shooter planned to use it for. (Those criminal charges have now been resolved through a restorative justice process.)

Banfield remains a target; re-created from being the first victim of the perpetrator into his willing ally. Unpacking this requires a look, first, at the relationship between intimate partner violence and mass casualty events and, second, at the nature of intimate partner abuse (IPV) and what many women, including Banfield, do to survive it.

Hidden in plain sight

The inquiry has heard from two Australian academics – Professors Jude McCulloch and JaneMaree Maher – about their research on private vs public violence. Their paper explores what they call the false dichotomy between these two kinds of violence and the harm that follows from that:

“Mass casualty attacks and gender-based violence have typically been seen as separate phenomena. However, with recent attention to the gendered nature of mass casualty attacks, the connections have become increasingly apparent. Men who commit gender-based violence are often the same men who commit mass casualty attacks and specific women, particularly intimate partners, are often the first victims of such attacks.”

They go on to explore the ways in which intimate partner violence (private) is denied, minimized, excused and normalized; in part, because it is so common. It also remains largely invisible, especially compared with mass casualty attacks (public), which, while rare, are highly visible and generally seen as more serious.

Mass casualty attacks are defined as events in which four or more people die in a single attack. Using that definition, familicide – most often perpetrated by husbands/fathers who kill their intimate partners, children and sometimes other family members – is the most common type of mass casualty attack in terms of both frequency and number of people killed.

Not surprisingly, most of these killings take place in the family home. When we interpret the numbers this way, the place where we should be the safest of all becomes the site of most mass casualty attacks.

Misogyny one more time

Misogyny lies at the heart of all of this – femicide, mass casualty attacks and how we analyze them both – but perhaps our own need to feel some measure of control over our safety also contributes to accepting this false dichotomy between private and public violence. If we downplay what is, in fact, the most common form of violence – IPV – and focus on attacks in public spaces, we can feel a little less afraid; especially in a country like Canada, where mass casualty attacks on strangers in public spaces are relatively rare.

McCulloch’s and Maher’s research also touches on the language used to describe perpetrators of intimate partner violence and mass casualty attacks, noting that much of it minimizes the violence of the IPV: “men who turn violent,” for example, as though the IPV is not, itself, violent, when “violent men who extend their violence into the public arena” would be more accurate.

Some language also hints at a mutuality in the responsibility for IPV. For example, “men who have had interpersonal conflicts with women,” does not accurately describe IPV, which is a one-way street of abuse and not a relationship of interpersonal conflicts.

And this takes us right back to Lisa Banfield.

“I was just so scared”

Over the 19 years of her relationship with the perpetrator, as documented in a 102-page report to the MCC, Banfield was subjected to severe physical violence that included being beaten, pushed, shoved, held down, having her hair pulled, being dragged and being choked; social isolation, including being forbidden to see her sisters and other family members because of the perpetrator’s jealousy of her relationships with anyone other than him; financial control because she worked for the perpetrator who paid her poorly, and coercive control in all its manifestations. The perpetrator always blamed her for his actions, thus setting the scene for her to feel responsible for anything he did with or to anyone.

When she testified last week, Banfield talked about her belief that, if she had not managed to escape from him on the night of April 18, 2020, he might not have killed anyone else:

“This is what haunts me, because I feel like he was targeting me and my family, and if I didn’t get out of that car I often think, would any of those people have died?”

Banfield’s decisions not to leave the abuser, not to report the abuse to the police, to lie to the police when they came to the home to look for firearms, to cover for the abuser’s behaviours are all consistent with the decisions women make every day; decisions they make to keep themselves (and often their children) as safe as they can. These decisions do not mean the abuse is not real or that the woman likes it or that she is complicit with the abuser. They mean she is trying to stay alive.

Following the mass casualty attack, Banfield gave four interviews to the RCMP – three while she was hospitalized because of her injuries from the perpetrator’s assault on her before he began his killing spree – endured a videotaped re-enactment of the night the events began, participated in five multi-hour interviews with MCC investigators and testified under oath for several hours.

Like many women who speak publicly about the abuse they have survived, she has been judged: she is either too emotional or not emotional enough; she lied to the police about guns in the house, so nothing she says can be trusted; she doesn’t remember dates or details and is confused about sequences of events, so she must be lying about them.

As reporter Stephen Kimber painstakingly documents, the physical evidence supports virtually every statement Banfield has made about the night of April 18, 2020, and yet she continues to be attacked for lying about and being complicit in the terrible, tragic events that unfolded that night and the following morning.

It’s time to stop vilifying women who just want to stay alive.

Sarah Boesveld and Farrah Khan get it exactly right in their recent Toronto Star op-ed:

“Banfield is not an extension of her violent partner, she is a survivor of his violence.”

2 thoughts on “From inquest to inquiry: part two

  1. Thanks for this Pam. We need to constantly be reminded of how victimized women get unfairly judged. Misogyny is a hard one to unpack too.

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