Warning: Details in this story are disturbing
The man who killed 22 people in Nova Scotia in April 2020 had a history of violence in the decades before his final rampage, inflicting assaults and harassment on strangers, employees, and patients alike.
New documents released by the Mass Casualty Commission leading the public inquiry examining the killings on April 18 and 19, 2020, show Gabriel Wortman had a pattern of intimidating, beating, stalking and berating anyone who offended him.
In interviews with police after the shootings, dozens of people going as far back as a woman he dated briefly after high school in 1986 describe him in terms including “creepy,” “violent,” “deranged,” and “obsessive.”
Women who worked for him, or were patients at his denture clinic, repeatedly told investigators he made them uncomfortable, and men cited his dangerous temper and extreme rage as intimidating enough to prevent them reporting physical violence.
Denture patients were assaulted, abused
“He f–king scared the hell out of me,” one former patient told police.
The man, identified only as BK, lived near the gunman’s denture clinic in Dartmouth and ran into him occasionally when putting garbage in their shared dumpster. Wortman offered to fix the man’s “scraggly” teeth and agreed to a monthly payment plan.
But when BK couldn’t make his $50 payment in December 1999, Wortman confronted him at the dumpster, tackled him to the ground, tore the dentures out of his mouth and shoved a handful of snow into his mouth.
“He goes, ‘Merry Christmas to you.’ And he walked away,” BK recalled.
BK didn’t go back to reclaim his dentures and went out of his way to ensure he didn’t cross paths with Wortman again. He moved out of the area within a month.
Former employees told police it wasn’t an isolated incident.
Renée Karsten, a denturist who worked with Wortman at his Dartmouth clinic from about 2001 to 2007, said he would “snap” every once in a while. She described twice seeing him break patients’ dentures in half or smash them on the floor because the patients complained about the fit.
Karsten also told police about the day Wortman stormed out of the clinic — leaving a patient in the chair — to beat a man who had been sitting on the windowsill of his building, having a smoke.
“[He] just lost it and just grabbed him,” Karsten told RCMP. “Just grabbed him off the windowsill and pulled him away from the window and just beat the shit out of him.”
Karsten said she tried to intervene, but Wortman yelled at her to go back inside. She said he soon came back in, washed his hands and returned to the patient in the chair.
Denture board found pattern of inappropriate conduct
Wortman’s interactions with patients were the subject of an investigation by the Denturist Licensing Board of Nova Scotia. The board received at least eight complaints about Wortman between 1998 and 2020. Three of those, filed in 2004, were by women who described abusive behaviour by Wortman and in one case, sexually explicit comments during treatment.
Board registrar Maureen Hope told board chair Robert MacKean in September 2004 that when patients tried to resolve the issue of ill-fitting dentures, Wortman “goes on the defensive and situation goes from bad to worse … from what I have been told by the patients, at this point he is certainly bordering professional misconduct.”
Wortman wrote to Hope in October 2004 in response to the complaints, saying the women were “fuelled by bitterness,” or out for vengeance.
However, the board launched an investigation into the three complaints and a fourth filed in February 2005.
Gunman called investigation ‘witch hunt’
At one point during that investigation, Wortman contacted a consulting denturist hired by the board, asking him to change his findings on the quality of Wortman’s work. After the investigation, he contacted an investigator at her workplace to tell her that the whole thing was a “witch hunt.”
In February 2007, Wortman signed a settlement agreement in order to avoid a formal hearing, accepting allegations of professional misconduct and one of interfering with the board’s investigation.
He was suspended for a month and ordered to undergo counselling. Although he completed some counselling, the inquiry documents note he continued to “deny responsibility or wrongdoing when responding to subsequent patient complaints.”
The documents show that Wortman wrote to the board to defend himself at least three more times against complaints in 2011, 2016 and 2019, each time saying the patients were either out to get him or had mental health issues.
There was no mention of any other investigations or sanctions from the board against Wortman related to complaints after 2007.
Repeated sexual harassment of multiple women
Although Wortman denied making sexual comments to the patient who filed the complaint in 2004, multiple women described sexual harassment and aggressive advances.
A woman identified only as BB in the inquiry documents said she worked as a receptionist in Wortman’s clinics soon after she finished high school, but quit after less than six months because he repeatedly exposed his penis to her and demanded sexual favours.
Another woman, identified as SS, applied for a job at the Dartmouth clinic. After an initial interview in 2004, Wortman invited her for a second — at his cottage in Portapique.
She went, only to have Wortman pressure her to have drinks and stay the night in his bedroom. She refused, but went on to work at his Halifax clinic. She said they were walking through a hospital one day to see a patient when he broke the silence by making a sexual comment to her “out of the blue.”
“I think that in his head, he thought that he was God’s gift to women and that all women should love him,” SS told RCMP.
A dental sales representative who visited Wortman’s clinic in 1999 said he invited her to a gathering at his cottage in Lawrencetown. The woman, identified as OO, arrived to find Wortman and another woman — his girlfriend at the time, who he immediately broke up with in front of OO.
When that woman left, OO told police the gunman turned “aggressive,” and told OO he “wanted to fool around.” She left and Wortman pursued her in his Jeep.
“I sped up and he was speeding up. And he tried to take me off the road. And I was like, what the hell is wrong with you?” she said
OO told police he only stopped when someone yelled at him from the street, and called her “continuously” afterward to apologize.
Others said they wanted to report the gunman’s fake police car and odd behaviour — but felt too intimidated to take that step.
Incident at gunman’s garage
The summer before the mass shooting, a group partied at the gunman’s garage, including a neighbour in Portapique called EE in the transcripts; her daughter, who is dubbed DD; and her friend, II.
Both younger women later told police the gunman’s fully marked RCMP car and uniforms scared them, and had them convinced he was either an officer or hosted parties with “dirty cops.”
The gunman also brushed against II all night, she said, and at one point he grabbed her breast.
Businesspeople who interacted with Wortman said he was confrontational, condescending and would get unreasonably agitated over minor infractions.
Allison MacDonald, a representative for Yellow Pages, said Wortman locked her out of his office in November 2019 when she arrived to a meeting two minutes late. During a followup meeting, she described him as “contentious,” and said he paced around the office “huffing and puffing,” and interrupted her to count down the time before his next meeting.
MacDonald said a male colleague who renewed Wortman’s account in 2020 described him as “nice as pie.”
In March 2020, Wortman contacted local CIBC officials about withdrawing large amounts of cash from his accounts, citing fears that the banks would close amid the pandemic. As bank officials tried to follow the protocols required for such a large withdrawal — $475,000 in total — Wortman grew increasingly agitated and irate.
After a local branch manager filed an internal complaint about Wortman, CIBC’s market vice-president for Nova Scotia and P.E.I. told police that he had a half-hour conversation with Wortman. Dean Branton described the gunman as “pretty upset” and “cursing a lot.”
“He wanted his money come hell or high water,” Branton told RCMP. “I said OK … then we have to do it in a manner that keeps you safe. Right? And so then that’s when he said, he said, ‘Well you let me worry about my f–king safety, buddy.'”
Wortman was known to law enforcement
Halifax Regional Police had dozens of pages of records on Wortman owing to the numerous altercations and assaults he was involved in over the years.
One incident that did result in charges was Wortman’s assault of a 15-year-old boy at the Tim Hortons near his Dartmouth clinic. Police records indicate Wortman confronted the teen in October 2001 — though it’s not clear why — and a verbal disagreement escalated. The gunman punched the teen in the head and kicked him in the ribs.
The police file notes that Wortman claimed he was acting in self-defence after the teen spit on him. Wortman pleaded guilty to assault in 2002 and received a conditional discharge with probation. He was banned from possessing firearms for the duration of his probation and ordered to attend anger management and counselling.
This incident, and other Halifax Regional Police incidents where the gunman was accused of assault or uttering threats, weren’t immediately available to RCMP in the early hours of the mass shooting because the two police forces used different databases.
The lone exception was just before 1 a.m. AT on April 19, 2020, when a Halifax officer forwarded a file to RCMP on a February 2020 incident where the gunman was upset Halifax police officers had parked in his clinic lot, and locked the cruiser in.
More than eight hours after the rampage began, a Halifax officer emailed a record of the rest of the incidents to RCMP, but later recalled to the commission there “wasn’t anything major.”
Witnesses who spoke to RCMP after the shootings detailed numerous other fights that weren’t ever reported to police.
One man who did home renovations on Wortman’s cottage in Portapique as a teenager in 2005 told police that Wortman was exceedingly meticulous and would turn violent when things weren’t carried out to his standards.
“I don’t get intimidated by very many people and that’s one of the guys that came across to me, like, I got to be careful with him,” said Joe Cartwright in his interview with RCMP after the shootings. “I made sure that [my boss] never ever left me alone, cause he was a f–kin’, he was a scary man.”
Cartwright described seeing Wortman assault a worker who walked on his grass. Wortman “laid the guy out in one hit,” and knocked the worker down again when he tried to fight back. As other workers went about their business, Cartwright said the man finally got up and left.
The inquiry will hear from the gunman’s former neighbour, Brenda Forbes, this week. Wortman stalked Forbes after she reported him to the RCMP for abusing his common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield.
Banfield is also expected to testify before the inquiry on Friday.