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Lawyer Jessica Zita, representing Lisa Banfield, addresses the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia on April 18/19, 2020, in Truro, N.S. on Sept. 22, 2022.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The spouse of the gunman who killed 22 Nova Scotians in the 2020 mass shooting is calling for improved police training and handling of domestic violence.

Jessica Zita, a lawyer representing the killer’s spouse Lisa Banfield, told a federal-provincial inquiry Thursday that police should have identified that the gunman was a high risk to cause significant violence given his “alarming history.”

“The police failed to protect the people of Nova Scotia from the perpetrator by failing to follow up on opportunities to identify him as a risk on a number of occasions dating back several years,” Zita said Thursday.

Long before Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people in an April 2020 rampage through rural Nova Scotia, he assaulted a teenager in 2001, he threatened to kill his parents in 2010 and he told someone that he wanted to “kill a cop” in 2011.

A former neighbour of the gunman, Brenda Forbes, has testified she told police that Wortman had pinned Banfield to the ground in July 2013 but nothing was done about it.

Zita said police should update their protocols and training so they are better equipped to identify “high-risk circumstances” and respond to domestic violence.

“There must be a mandate towards training officers to respect and empower victims of domestic violence, including those that are reluctant and ambivalent,” Zita said.

“Police forces should be educated on coercive control and how it manifests,” she said.

Erin Breen, who represents Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and Wellness Within, told the inquiry that data shows a high correlation between perpetrators of mass killings and prior history of gender-based violence.

Banfield has testified that Wortman assaulted her and threatened her with weapons on numerous occasions throughout their 19-year relationship. Inquiry interviews have also found that he was violent with his first wife.

“It is therefore at our own peril that we, as a society, cling to uninformed biases and stereotypes to dismiss gender-based violence as a private matter that does not affect us personally,” Breen said.