A woman pays her respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2020. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Neighbour reported mass shooter’s domestic violence, weapons to police

Neighbour reported mass shooter’s domestic violence, weapons to police

HALIFAX — A former neighbour of the gunman behind last month’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia says she reported his domestic violence and cache of firearms to the RCMP years ago and ended up leaving the community herself due to fears of his violence.

Brenda Forbes said that in the summer of 2013, she told police about reports that Gabriel Wortman had held down and beaten his common law spouse behind one of the properties he owned in Portapique, a coastal community west of Truro.

Domestic violence is being examined as a key aspect of the mass shooting, as police have said the rampage began on the night of April 18 after the gunman argued with his common law spouse and restrained and beat her before she managed to escape into the woods.

He went on to kill 22 people and burn a number of homes before police shot and killed him outside a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

Forbes said her first awareness of Wortman’s domestic violence was shortly after he moved to Portapique in the early 2000s, when his partner came to her door and asked for help.

“She ran to my house and said Gabriel was beating on her and she had to get away. She was afraid,” said the 62-year-old veteran of the Canadian Forces.

Forbes said she encouraged her neighbour to seek help but recalled that she was frightened of her partner and of repercussions of going to police due to threats he’d made against her family.

She said that in 2013 she learned Wortman had been seen hitting his partner behind one of his properties.

“He had her on the ground, was strangling her …. He was beating on her,” she said of the account she heard, saying there were three male witnesses.

“On that incident, I called the RCMP and I told them what happened, and I said he has a bunch of illegal weapons, and I know because he showed them to us,” said Forbes, who has since moved outside the province.

She said that in response to her complaint the RCMP interviewed her while she was working at a cadet camp in Debert, N.S., and she retold the story. She said she encouraged one of the three witnesses to give his account to police, but he refused, saying he feared violence from Wortman.

Forbes, who first told her story to the Halifax Examiner, said it upset her that police seemed unable to take firmer action on her complaint.

“From what I got from the RCMP, because (the partner) would not put in a complaint, as she was scared to death, they basically said, ‘There’s not much we can do. We can monitor him but there’s not much else we can do,’ ” she said.

The Canadian Press emailed the RCMP about the prior report of domestic abuse, but a spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.

RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said during a news conference last month that investigators “have spoken to witnesses who have provided information to us about prior assaults; those are all things that we are dealing with right now.”

He has also said that investigators are speaking to the former common law spouse to gain a better understanding of previous incidents.

However, Forbes said she felt at the time the incident should have been more thoroughly investigated.

“If you tell them that he may have illegal weapons, should you not go and check it out?” she asked.

Her husband, who also served in the Canadian Forces, recalled being shown their neighbour’s weapons cache.

“He knew I had weapons, being in the military, so he was always one of those guys who had to show others that whatever they had, he had something better,” George Forbes said. Wortman showed him firearms, including pistols and a rifle, in the garage, he said.

“We reported that to the police also,” he said. Police have said the gunman didn’t have a licence for his weapons.

Brenda Forbes said that after she reported the abuse incident to the RCMP’s Truro detachment, Wortman became more aggressive towards her.

George Forbes recalled him coming to the front door and threatening his wife. Brenda Forbes said Wortman would drive around their house and park outside the door.

“I was scared. … Even though I’m military and I know how to use a weapon, that man scared the crap out of me,” she said.

She said she and her husband left the area in 2014 out of growing fear and discomfort over Wortman’s behaviour.

Linda MacDonald, a founder of Persons Against Non-State Torture, said in an interview that advocates who are trying to reduce violence against women have long seen a connection between hatred of women and mass shootings.

The Truro-based nurse is among the signatories of a recent statement that called for a deeper look at the role misogyny played in the April 18-19 killings.

“There’s definitely an element of male violence against women in this crime,” she said. “Our main request is an independent public inquiry with a feminist analysis included.”

MacDonald said if male violence against women were considered more seriously in the criminal justice system, it could avoid tragedies such as the one that occurred in Nova Scotia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Mass shootings

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read