Canada

N.S. gunman’s frequent trips abroad put him on a border watch list. They found nothing | CBC News

A newly released document shows the Canada Border Services Agency had grown suspicious about Gabriel Wortman before he murdered 22 people in April 2020.

The document is part of a trove of material released by the Mass Casualty Commission last week as it wrapped up its public hearings into the killings and their aftermath.

Wortman and his long-time partner, Lisa Banfield, were placed on the CBSA’s Project Frequent Flyer list in 2010 because of their recurring trips to the Caribbean.

According to the affidavit by CBSA director of intelligence Eric Levac, the couple were added to the list because of their travel to “Jamaica and/or the Dominican Republic, both drug-source countries of concern for the CBSA.”

Information provided to the MCC showed that RCMP would not have been aware that Wortman was on a CBSA lookout because the two agencies did not share such information.

Similarly, CBSA officers were unaware of officer safety bulletins or other red flags that police had raised about him.

On March 19, 2010, Wortman was selected for secondary examination when he flew into Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport. This was the first time he had been flagged under the frequent flyer project. Nothing was found.

Gabriel Wortman travelled from his home Portapique Beach Road to the U.S. many times. The Mass Casualty Commission believes he illegally obtained weapons in the U.S., but border searches never found anything. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A month later, April 9, 2010, Wortman was again subject to a secondary examination at the airport and, again, nothing was found.

As a result of those two searches, Wortman’s and Banfield’s names were taken off the frequent flyer list on April 26, 2010. In his affidavit, Levac said removing them from that list meant their names would not appear in any subsequent search of their files. 

‘Charity work’ in the Caribbean

However, the pair were still subject to additional searches, including on May 9, 2010. On that occasion, it was Banfield who was selected for extra scrutiny. She told officers Wortman was her boyfriend and employer and that the pair traveled to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic about six times a year. According to Levac, the search found nothing.

The documents released to the MCC included a statement from Michael Klenavic, a CBSA intelligence officer who oversaw Project Frequent Flyer. He took part in one of the secondary exams for Wortman and Banfield.

“Wortman told me they were in the Caribbean doing charity denture work and that Banfield assisted him,” Klenavic recalled.

“I recall he said it was similar to Medicine Sans Frontiers but for dentures and he had helped five or six people on that trip,” he added. Klenavic said he was satisfied with the explanation and allowed them to pass.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

Wortman next popped up on CBSA’s radar in April 2016. This time, it was at the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Woodstock, N.B. An American border agent called the Canadians to say he felt Wortman was undervaluing four motorcycles that he was importing from the U.S. 

Wortman had bought the bikes in Florida and the agent felt by undervaluing them, he was trying to avoid or lower the duty and taxes. 

When he arrived on the Canadian side of the border, Wortman showed the CBSA officers receipts for the bikes, but he refused to let them see his eBay account to verify the price he paid.

While the bikes were not seized, the episode did generate a report. That report in turn generated another lookout, this time for suspicion of smuggling. That lookout was issued on July 27, 2016. Four days later, Wortman was subject to another secondary search at the Woodstock crossing because of concerns about auto parts.

Stopped at border multiple times

Wortman was traveling with his American friend, Sean Conlogue, in a vehicle with Maine licence plates. Officers found two new tires and parts for a motorized scooter. They told Conlogue he had a choice if he wanted to avoid paying duty and taxes: he could either leave the goods at the border crossing, or return to the United States.

He and Wortman opted to go back to the U.S. and leave the items there. When they returned to the border, they were searched again, but nothing was found.

Wortman was subject to more close inspections in subsequent weeks: 

  • On Aug. 16, 2016 at the St. Stephen, N.B., crossing.
  • On Sep. 4, 2016 at the Woodstock, N.B., crossing.
  • On Sep. 25, 2016 at the Woodstock crossing.
  • On Nov. 9, 2016, again at Woodstock.

On the August crossing, Wortman declared tires, clothing and alcohol purchased in the U.S. The agent found the declarations were accurate.

Of the Sep. 4 crossing, a border service officer noted that, “the sheer number of bikes imported raises some question but [Wortman] claims they are personal importations and they appear to be good value relative to the year and condition.”

During his crossing later that same month, Wortman questioned why he was being subject to extra scrutiny when he had a Nexus card. Nexus is a joint, Canadian-American program meant to streamline border crossings for people who have been previously screened.

Lisa Banfield, the common-law wife of Gabriel Wortman, testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry earlier this year. The CBSA placed her on a watch list due of their frequent trips to the Caribbean. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)

From November 2016 to April 2020, Wortman crossed the Canada-U.S. border 21 times. On one of those crossings, he flew into Halifax’s Stanfield Airport. The other 20 crossings were through the Woodstock port of entry in New Brunswick.

He was subjected to five secondary searches at the Woodstock crossing; the first in August, 2018, the last in August 2019, eight months before the rampage of April 18 and 19 2020. Nothing was found in these searches.

Evidence presented to the Mass Casualty Commission showed Wortman was able to smuggle three of the guns he used in his rampage across the border, having obtained them in the United States.

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