Brett Ryan's Past as a Bank Robber
The murders was not Brett Ryan's first criminal offenses. Prior to the murders, Ryan had been a bank robber in 2009 in an effort to pay more than $60,000 in debts he'd largely accrued in two romantic relationships, according to parole and bankruptcy documents.
Ryan was later diagnosed with depression when he had psychological counselling during the 15 months he spent in jail and reports said depression over his debt burden was a large factor in the robberies. He would however later be described as a "model prisoner" who was considered to be a low risk to re-offend, before he was released on day parole in April 2010, Parole Board of Canada documents show.
Marriage and Murder
At the time of August 2016 murders, Ryan was just 3 weeks away from marrying his fiancée, which would have been on September 16th 2016.
It is unclear exactly when Ryan met his fiancée, but it is believed the couple met before Ryan's parole would have ended. As a condition of his parole after the robbery conviction, he would have had to report the relationship to his parole supervisor, because the board considered a past breakup a trigger for the robberies. There is no indication in the parole board documents whether Ryan reported the relationship to his parole officer.
So why is this called the "Crossbow Slayings"?
Initially the public jumped to conclusions and assumed that Brett Ryan had killed his family with a crossbow - which is notoriously slow to reload. However as court documents and Brett Ryan's confession show, only one of his family members were actually shot with a crossbow - instead his choice of murder was attempting to stab them with a crossbow bolt and strangulation.
Crossbows are rarely used in murders - about as rare as people being murdered with samurai swords or pencils. The problem is that when general populace hears the words crossbow and murders together, they immediately jump to the conclusion that crossbows were primarily at fault.
Crossbows in Canada
In Canada, crossbows count as firearms, but do not require a license to purchase one. They are commonly used for hunting and by crossbow enthusiasts for the fun of shooting them. In Ontario a hunting crossbow has a minimum poundage of 150 lbs or more. Hand crossbows (classified as any crossbow less than 500 mm in length are prohibited. (Children's toy crossbows don't count.)
A few years ago there was also a 2nd incident of a crossbow being used in a murder in a Toronto library, however the crossbow failed to kill the person and murderer ended up killing his father with a hammer instead.
Crossbows in Pop Culture
Crossbows are fairly common in books, films, television shows and video games - often with a plot stressing survival. An excellent example is "The Walking Dead", in which the character Daryl Dixon regularly uses a crossbow, in which the protagonists have to survive against hordes of zombies and dystopian societies led by villains.
However films and TV rarely accurately show crossbows for how slow they are to reload. Crossbows have excellent range and power, but they are not the fastest of weapons.
A Brief History of Crossbows in Murders
Historically, crossbows were more likely to be used in assassinations of royalty / nobility. As such many European kingdoms banned the crossbow and made it illegal for anyone outside of the military to own one, however because crossbows were relatively easy to make and took almost no training to learn how to shoot proficiently, crossbows thus remained an easy way for the general populace to get rid of tyrants they despised.
The most famous case is that of the Swiss hero William Tell's assassination of the tyrant Albrecht Gessler, the bailiff of Habsburg. Gessler famously forced William Tell to shoot an apple off of the head of Tell's son or be killed by Gessler's men. According to legend, Tell later tracked Gessler's carriage and assassinated the tyrannical bailiff through the window of his carriage.
While it was historically possible to murder common people with crossbows, we must also remember that they date back to a time period when people would also fight duels with their foes - thus if someone truly wanted someone dead it was common practice to simply challenge them to a duel. Thus even when crossbows were used for hunting and for war, they were still not commonly used for murder.
This doesn't mean that crossbows were not used historically for murders, simply that they were not used that often when compared to other means.