File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in a photo from the Facebook page of Shanna Desmond.

Desmond fatality inquiry begins in Nova Scotia two years after suicide, murders

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — More than two years after former Canadian soldier Lionel Desmond killed his mother, wife and daughter before taking his own life, a provincial fatality inquiry got underway Tuesday in Guysborough, N.S., not far from the family’s rural home.

The commissioner overseeing the inquiry, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, opened the hearings by recounting the grim facts from Jan. 3, 2017, when the former infantryman entered his home in Upper Big Tracadie armed with a rifle.

“Family members, friends and the community have all been impacted by the deaths in a variety of ways,” Zimmer said as the hearings began. “Many questions have been left unanswered.”

The Nova Scotia government promised the inquiry in December 2017, almost a year after Desmond fatally shot his mother Brenda, wife Shanna and 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah, before turning the gun on himself.

The 33-year-old soldier had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Afghanistan in 2007.

Family members say Desmond sought treatment for his mental illness and a post-concussion disorder, but they say he did not receive the help he desperately needed.

The first order of business for the inquiry will be deciding who will be granted standing to be directly involved in the proceedings.

In all, Zimmer confirmed he would review eight applications for standing, including requests from Desmond’s sisters, Chantel and Cassandra, and Shanna Desmond’s brother, Sheldon Borden.

An application was filed by lawyers representing the federal attorney general, whose office will speak for the involvement of Health Canada, Veterans Affairs, the RCMP and the Public Safety Department.

The province’s attorney general applied for standing. That office will speak for the involvement of the provincial departments of justice, health, education and community services as well as the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Other applications were filed by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which represents Guysborough Memorial Hospital and St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish.

Family and friends of Lionel Desmond have said he sought help from staff at St. Martha’s in the days leading up to the killings.

Two psychiatrists from St. Martha’s Hospital — Dr. Ian Slayter and Dr. Faisal Rahman — have also applied for standing, as did Heather MacPherson, the daughter of a Second World War veteran who has been dealing with Veteran Affairs on his behalf for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, Shanna Desmond’s parents, Thelma and Richard Borden, also submitted an application but Zimmer said he would consider that request at a later date.

Earlier in the day, Zimmer talked about the role of fatality inquiries and how they differ from public inquiries. He also mentioned jurisdiction issues and the specific terms of reference that will guide the inquiry.

Adam Rodgers, the lawyer who represents Desmond’s estate and Cassandra Desmond, has said the Nova Scotia Justice Department has imposed unrealistic restrictions on legal fees and preparation time.

He is seeking an order from Zimmer to increase those limits. That motion will be dealt with on Thursday morning.

The inquiry, which adjourned on Tuesday, is expected to begin hearing testimony in September.

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