The Atlantic Denture Clinic is guarded by police in Dartmouth, N.S. on Monday, April 20, 2020. The repeated threats and isolation a Nova Scotia mass shooter allegedly used against his spouse show why such cruelty should be a criminal offence in Canada, experts on domestic violence say. Acquaintances and former neighbours have described the 51-year-old killer as a clever and manipulative millionaire who would threaten harm to his spouse’s family, control her money or cut off her means of escape by removing the tires from her car or blocking the driveway. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The Atlantic Denture Clinic is guarded by police in Dartmouth, N.S. on Monday, April 20, 2020. The repeated threats and isolation a Nova Scotia mass shooter allegedly used against his spouse show why such cruelty should be a criminal offence in Canada, experts on domestic violence say. Acquaintances and former neighbours have described the 51-year-old killer as a clever and manipulative millionaire who would threaten harm to his spouse’s family, control her money or cut off her means of escape by removing the tires from her car or blocking the driveway. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

How Nova Scotia mass shooting could bring law that makes abusers’ tactics a crime

A gunman killed 22 people in a multi-hour shooting spree

The repeated threats and isolation a Nova Scotia mass shooter allegedly used against his spouse show why such cruelty should be a criminal offence in Canada, experts on domestic violence say.

Acquaintances and former neighbours of Gabriel Wortman have described the 51-year-old killer as a clever and manipulative millionaire who would threaten harm to his spouse’s family, control her money or cut off her means of escape by removing the tires from her car or blocking the driveway.

Carmen Gill, a professor at the University of New Brunswick, says if there’s a public inquiry into the shooting, she expects it will demonstrate how a law similar to the United Kingdom’s 2015 “coercive control” offence may help prevent other abusers from escaping detection.

“Coercive control is a horrible form of violence because it’s a way of controlling people and depriving them of their basic rights,” the sociologist said in a telephone interview.

Wortman’s killings were preceded by a domestic assault against his spouse on the night of April 18 at one of his properties in Portapique, N.S. After the woman escaped, the 51-year-old denturist killed 22 victims before police shot and killed him at a service station on April 19.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia mass murder shows the public threat of domestic violence, say experts

The woman has spoken to the police about her partner’s use of a replica police vehicle and his guns, but requests by The Canadian Press to speak to her directly have been declined by a family member.

However, neighbours and multiple police witnesses have said there were many forms of intimate partner abuse before the night of the rampage.

In court documents released last week, acquaintances told police they’d witnessed ”abusive,” “controlling” and ”manipulative” behaviour by Wortman in the past, though details are blacked out.

In an April 20 interview with The Canadian Press, Portapique neighbour John Hudson, who knew Wortman for 18 years, described one of the gunman’s methods of isolating her.

He witnessed Wortman locking his partner out of their home to prevent her from gathering her belongings after an argument and then removing the tires from her vehicle and throwing them in a ditch.

Gill said this is the kind of isolation and intimidation that would likely lead to prosecution under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act passed in the United Kingdom.

“Someone who is controlling their spouses will take all kinds of tactics to minimize their ability to reach out,” she said. ”This was a disturbing situation which clearly shows he was isolating his partner.”

Another former neighbour, Brenda Forbes, has told The Canadian Press that in the early 2000s, the spouse came to her front door saying Wortman had harmed her, but she was afraid to report the abuse to authorities because he said he would hurt her family.

“She was afraid. He had blocked her car so she couldn’t get out,” she recalled.

Forbes said her neighbour had little financial security, as Wortman had encouraged her to leave her prior job and sell her car, while he provided a vehicle and employment.

Gill said a U.K.-style coercion law would allow acquaintances and colleagues to report exactly these patterns of threats and control.

It would shift police focus from trying to pin down specific incidents of physical assault, allowing them to instead look for repeated actions abusers take to control their spouses over time, she added.

The sociologist recently submitted a paper to the federal Justice Department’s ombudsman for victims of crime on this potential legal reform.

It notes Criminal Code provisions prohibit specific abuse, such as criminal harassment, uttering threats, making indecent and harassing phone calls, trespassing at night, and mischief but says there is no offence that fully captures the ongoing, coercive control of intimate partners.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia mass killer’s semi-automatic guns believed to have come from U.S.

Provincial laws in Nova Scotia and other provinces allow for protection orders giving victims the right to stay in their home and use the family vehicle, and they may also restrain the abuser from having any direct contact with the victim, children or other family members.

“This is an important support to victims, but it is not fully addressing the problem,” Gill wrote.

The British law, first enacted in England and Wales, says coercion applies if the partner’s behaviour is repetitive and has “a serious effect” on the spouse and they know or ought to have known it will.

A guideline by prosecution services outlines a number of examples of coercion, including isolating a person, monitoring their phones, depriving them of access to support services, threatening family members, and controlling their finances — all activities that Wortman was reported to have carried out.

By the end of 2018, over 308 people had been convicted and sentenced under the law in the United Kingdom, 97 per cent of them male.

Heidi Illingworth, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, said she’d been thinking of recommending similar coercive control legislation prior to the killings in Nova Scotia. She said the case, along with Gill’s research paper, is giving her further reason to make such a recommendation.

“I’m definitely in favour of bringing a piece of legislation forward that would amend our Criminal Code in Canada, because we can only really deal with physical (intimate partner) violence,” she said during a telephone interview.

Statistics Canada compiles police reports of violent crime that indicated in 2018 about one-third of reports of violence — more than 99,000 cases — were intimate partner violence, with about 80 per cent of this violence committed against women.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

domestic violenceMass shootingsNova Scotia

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

Just Posted

North Cowichan to add three more off-leash dog areas in the new year. (File photo)
North Cowichan adds three new off-leash areas

Trial program runs through 2021, but not the summer months

Principal Marie-Claude Carrier has overseen the opening of the Cowichan Valley’s first francophone school. (Citizen file)
Registration now open for Duncan Francophone school

École francophone de Duncan opened last fall with six students

Reggie went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park on Jan. 3 and owner Brittny Bukva is hoping for his safe return. (Submitted)
Have you seen Reggie? Dog went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park

Have you seen Reggie? Dog went missing in Duncan’s McAdam Park

Workers prepare to take down 28 large trees on private property on Mill Bay Road this week after they were intentionally poisoned almost two years ago. (Submitted photo)
Still no charges over poisoning of trees in Mill Bay

It’s been almost two years since incident involving 28 large trees

Cory Harrington has been found. (Submitted photo)
Missing Lake Cowichan man located

Cory Harrington was last seen on Dec. 11

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

(Black Press Media files)
Woman steals bottles of wine after brandishing stun baton in New Westminster

Police say the female suspect was wearing a beige trench coat with fur lining

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Vancouver Island paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Cumberland photographer Sara Kemper recently took the top spot in a Canadian Geographic photography contest. Photo by Sara Kemper
B.C. photographer takes top Canadian Geographic photo prize

Sara Kemper shows what home means to her in Comox Valley photo

Most Read