Fatality inquiry: Lionel Desmond had complex mental health issues

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — A psychiatrist who saw Lionel Desmond twice before he fatally shot his wife, mother, daughter and then himself in 2017 told an inquiry Monday the former soldier clearly displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

However Dr. Ian Slayter said Desmond’s mental health issues, assessed during two meetings in the fall of 2016, were far more complex than the one diagnosis.

Slayter told the fatality inquiry that the Afghanistan war veteran from rural Nova Scotia also suffered from major depression, a probable traumatic brain injury, possible attention deficit disorder and borderline delusions about his wife’s fidelity.

The psychiatrist, who saw the former infantryman as an out-patient at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., said Desmond told him his PTSD symptoms had been subsiding but he said his jealousy toward his wife Shanna and nightmares about infidelity had been getting worse.

Slayter said when he first met Desmond on Oct. 24, 2016, Shanna was with him and did most of the talking, saying at one point she was not afraid of him, though she confirmed there had been a great deal of marital conflict.

Demond insisted he had never physically abused his wife. He complained about nightmares and lack of sleep.

“It’s clear there had been a lot of arguing,” Slayter testified. “They were talking about years of that going on …. He would get angry, pound on tables and throw things.”

Slayter said Desmond told him that his nightmares were often about his wife cheating on him.

“Clearly, jealousy was one of the problems,” Slayter said. “I didn’t spend a lot of time going into that …. They seemed irritated with each other.”

During an interview on Dec. 2, 2016, Slayter concluded Desmond’s jealousy seemed “over-emphasized” and “bordering on delusional,” he said.

Slayter said Desmond also had problems processing information and complained about having difficulty following instructions or long conversations.

The psychiatrist said those symptoms could have been linked to a possible traumatic brain injury caused by one of three serious falls Desmond had while serving in Afghanistan in 2007.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond used a Soviet-era SKS 7.62 semi-automatic carbine to kill his 52-year-old mother Brenda, his 31-year-old wife and their 10-year-old daughter Aaliya inside the family’s mobile home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

Among other things, the inquiry is investigating whether Desmond and his family had access to the appropriate mental health and domestic violence intervention services.

Slayter told the inquiry he was concerned about the complexity of Desmond’s mental health challenges, which is why he agreed to follow up to make sure Desmond received intensive rehabilitation and psychotherapy.

The psychiatrist noted in his patient records that he was worried Desmond was “falling through the cracks” because he had been receiving care through the federal Veterans Affairs Department when he was living in New Brunswick, but those services stopped when he moved to Nova Scotia.

“When he got to Nova Scotia, he was no longer covered by any military service,” Slayter testified. “I thought it could be organized better. He deserved it.”

Melissa Grant, a lawyer representing the Attorney General of Canada, told Slayter that Desmond had a case manager within Veterans Affairs who was working on finding him the services he needed, but there was some dispute over where he would have to go.

Grant said the inquiry will hear evidence that Desmond was told he could receive help in Halifax, but the veteran had made it clear he would prefer to be treated in Cape Breton, which was closer to his home in Nova Scotia’s eastern mainland.

The inquiry has heard that Desmond failed to show up for an appointment with Slayter on Dec. 21, 2016, but on Jan. 3, 2017 — the same day as the killing — he rebooked for another appointment later in the month.

Slayter was the third medical professional to testify that Desmond was articulate, calm, coherent and showed no signs of psychosis or thoughts of suicide or homicide, which is why he was considered a low risk for violence in late 2016 and early 2017.

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