Inquiry into death of former soldier who killed his family resumes in Nova Scotia

The fatality inquiry into the death of an Afghanistan War veteran who also killed his wife, daughter and mother in rural Nova Scotia begins in Guysborough today, three years after the shootings.

Lionel Desmond, 33, had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within years of returning home from an eight-month tour in Afghanistan in 2007. He received treatment while in the Canadian Forces in Montreal and in New Brunswick, and sought help in Nova Scotia as a veteran. 

On Jan. 3, 2017, he shot his wife Shanna, 31, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his 52-year-old mother Brenda before turning the gun on himself in the family’s home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

The inquiry will delve into the public support systems available to Desmond before his death and whether anything could have been done to prevent the shootings. 

Unlike a public inquiry where findings carry legal weight, a fatality inquiry leads to recommendations. 

That’s one of the reasons the Desmond family has continued to call for a public inquiry at the federal level, hoping to create changes within the Department of Defence and Veterans Affairs. 

Desmond, shown in 2007, had been diagnosed with PTSD within years of returning home from Afghanistan. (Trev Bungay/Facebook/The Canadian Press)

The inquiry is expected to probe whether:

  • Desmond had access to mental health services.
  • He should have been able to obtain a firearms licence.
  • The health-care providers who treated him were trained to recognize PTSD or signs of domestic violence.

The inquiry had been scheduled to begin Nov. 18, but was adjourned as Shanna Desmond’s family had recently dismissed their lawyer and the replacement needed time to prepare. 

It’s expected to run for five weeks given the extraordinary volume of evidence: 58,000 files, numbering about 120,000 pages.

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