Nova Scotia

Veteran booked followup at hospital the same day as triple murder-suicide

The opening stage of a long-awaited inquiry into what happened prior to Lionel Desmond killing his mother, wife and daughter before turning the gun on himself in 2017 began Tuesday.

Long-awaited inquiry will establish major players this week and hear first evidence in September

Lionel Desmond was part of the India Company, 2nd battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment in Afghanistan in 2007. (Facebook/The Canadian Press)

The preliminary phase of an inquiry into what led former soldier Lionel Desmond to kill his wife, mother and daughter in 2017 before turning the gun on himself began Tuesday.

Tuesday's proceedings in Guysborough, N.S., marked the beginning of what will likely be a lengthy search for answers.

Desmond's sister, Cassandra Desmond, said Tuesday the family is glad the inquiry has begun.

"We started this fight back in 2017, basically put our grief behind us to fight."

But she said the family is frustrated by what they see as the Defence Department dragging its feet on supplying some documents.

"We still don't have Lionel's medical records. But at the same time, I'm just happy that the time is here, to get a start."

Witnesses to begin testifying in September

People interested in participating in the inquiry will make applications before Justice Warren Zimmer. The inquiry will hear from its first witness in September. 

Those in attendance Tuesday at the Guysborough municipal office heard that Desmond, 33, sought mental-health services at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., on Jan. 1, 2017. He was observed overnight by staff and discharged on Jan. 2.On Jan. 3, he booked a followup appointment for Jan. 18.

Later that same day, he crept up to the family home in in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., and slashed the tires of the family truck before going inside. He killed his mother Brenda, 52, his wife Shanna, 31, and their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah. Police said all died of apparent gunshot wounds.

What happened before the deaths?

Desmond served in Afghanistan in 2007 with the 2nd battalion Royal Canadian Regiment's India company. That tour was among the most bloody of the Canadian military's combat mission, with dozens of casualties as the Taliban ramped up their guerrilla campaign. 

Relatives and former comrades have described him as friendly and funny before he headed overseas. But he returned with a very different personality, according to his own social media posts and friends and family.

For nearly 10 years, he sought help battling symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He spent months at a rehabilitation centre in Montreal before the killings. 

Shanna Desmond (with her daughter, Aaliyah) graduated as a registered nurse in May 2016. (Facebook)

Fatality inquiry will not assign blame

The inquiry will probe many aspects of the support systems available to Desmond before his death, including whether he had access to mental health services, whether he should have been able to obtain a firearms licence, and whether health care providers who treated him were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries.

So far, the parties that have applied to participate in the inquiry include:

  • The Attorney General of Canada, representing federal entities (the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs, RCMP, Health Canada, Public Safety Canada)
  • The Attorney General of Nova Scotia, representing provincial entities (such as the Departments of Health, Justice, Community Services, African-Nova Scotian Affairs and the N.S. Advisory Council on the Status of Women)
  •  The Nova Scotia Health Authority
  • A lawyer for two physicians who treated Lionel Desmond
  • A lawyer for the estate of Lionel Desmond via his sister
  • A lawyer for the estate of Brenda Desmond, Lionel's mother
  • A lawyer for the estate of Shanna Desmond and Aaliyah Desmond, along with Shanna's brother Sheldon Borden. 

Unlike a public inquiry, which traditionally can make findings of legal responsibility, a fatality inquiry ends with recommendations contained in a report.

Cassandra Desmond said she hopes the fatality inquiry will lead to a public inquiry that can lead to its recommendations being adopted across the country.

"What about the veterans in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, what about the veterans there, like who's going to implement those recommendations?" she said of the current inquiry's limitations.

"They prepare them, they condition them for life as a veteran and as a soldier, but who prepares them and conditions them for life as a civilian after being a soldier when they come home?"

Starting in September, the inquiry will be livestreamed online to the public.

Adam Rodgers is the lawyer representing the estate of Lionel Desmond, through his personal representative, Lionel's sister, Cassandra Desmond. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

"The commissioner won't be doing any findings of fault as part of the inquiry," said Adam Rodgers, a lawyer acting on behalf of the estate of Lionel Desmond.

"It's really just answers to those sort of bigger questions."

Those answers likely won't come for at least a year.

Brett Ruskin is at the inquiry. Follow along here:

About the Author

Brett Ruskin

Reporter/Videojournalist

Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.