Official says she would have denied Desmond a gun licence had she known more

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — An inquiry investigating why a former Canadian soldier fatally shot three family members and himself heard Thursday from a firearms official who said she would have rejected Lionel Desmond’s firearms licence had she known more about his mental health problems.

Lysa Rossignol, operations manager for the Provincial Firearms Office in New Brunswick, told the inquiry she knew nothing about a December 2015 letter that recommended Desmond for admission to a residential treatment program for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The letter, from an operational stress injury clinic in Fredericton, said Desmond was struggling with disabling symptoms of PTSD and major depression, which required intervention to stabilize his mental health.

Though Desmond was not considered at risk for aggression or violence, the letter said he had “significant problems functioning in daily living.”

Rossignol told the inquiry that if she had known about the letter, she would not have reinstated Desmond’s licence on April 18, 2016.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a Soviet-era SKS 7.62 carbine, which he used later that night to kill his 31-year-old wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his 52-year-old mother Brenda inside the family’s home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. He then turned the gun on himself.

The inquiry, which started last month, has looked into the support Desmond and his family received from provincial mental health and domestic violence services, and it has now turned its attention to investigating how the former infantryman managed to maintain a firearms licence despite multiple run-ins with police.

On Thursday, Rossignol testified she and a colleague were tasked with reviewing Desmond’s licence after RCMP officers were dispatched to his home in Oromocto, N.B., on Nov. 27, 2015.

At the time, Desmond’s wife Shanna told police she had received texts indicating her husband was preparing to kill himself by using a rifle he kept locked in his garage.

Desmond was later arrested under the province’s Mental Health Act, his weapons were confiscated by the RCMP and his firearms licence was suspended during a firearms office review that included a medical assessment from a doctor.

Rossignol said the brief assessment from Dr. Paul Smith indicated Desmond was “non-suicidal and stable,” and the doctor concluded he had ”no concerns for firearms usage with appropriate licence.”

That assessment echoed a similar appraisal made by another doctor in 2014. That doctor was asked for his opinion after Desmond failed to note his PTSD diagnosis when he applied to renew his firearms licence earlier that year.

“He has no problem with Mr. Desmond possessing firearms,” Rossignol said, reading from an investigation report prepared in December 2014. “He advises that Mr. Desmond has no psychosis and has never mentioned self-harm or any violent ideation.”

Rossignol told the inquiry the medical assessments, though brief, gave her the assurances she needed to reinstate Desmond’s licence in 2016.

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