Desmond Fatality Inquiry slated for September

GUYSBOROUGH: The fatality inquiry into the triple murder-suicide of Afghanistan war veteran Lionel Desmond and his family is scheduled to begin hearing evidence in Guysborough this September.

The bodies of Desmond, his 31-year-old wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother Brenda were found fatally shot inside their rural home in Upper Big Tracadie on January 3, 2017.

Jennifer Stairs, a communications director for the judiciary, said in a media release on March 27 that provincial court Judge Warren K. Zimmer will begin to hear evidence in September at the Municipal Building in Guysborough.

Those interested in participating in the inquiry can apply to the presiding judge. To be considered, applications must be submitted to the inquiry by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 29.

The hearings will begin on Tuesday May 21, when Zimmer will hear applications from anyone interested in participating in the inquiry, and following the hearings, will decide who will be permitted to participate, as well as any limitations.

“Applicants and their counsel, if they are represented, are expected to attend the standing hearings to answer any questions that Judge Warren Zimmer may have about their application,” Stairs said. “Applicants will also be permitted to briefly explain why they should be allowed to participate in the inquiry.”

Interested persons can submit their application by e-mailing completed forms to: desmondinquiry@courts.ns.ca; faxing their forms to (902) 863-7479 with attention to Elise Levangie, or mailing it to Desmond Fatality Inquiry, Antigonish Justice Centre, 11 James St., Antigonish, N.S., B2G 1R6.

Applicants will be notified, and the decisions will be posted on the inquiry Web site. It is anticipated that Zimmer will meet with the parties and counsel to discuss the rules of procedure prior to the disclosure period commencing.

Once the evidentiary hearings are underway, the inquiry will be in session on weekdays, generally starting at 9:30 a.m. until approximately 4:30 p.m. A tentative schedule for the upcoming week of proceedings will be posted on the inquiry Web site every Friday.

The 33-year-old soldier had been diagnosed with PTSD in 2007, after two harrowing tours in Afghanistan.

In December 2017, the provincial government promised an inquiry, almost a year after Desmond fatally shot his mother, his wife, their daughter, and himself.

Brenda Desmond

The fatality inquiry will examine whether Desmond had access to appropriate mental health services and whether his family had access to domestic violence intervention services.

Zimmer will also consider if Desmond should have been able to keep or obtain a license enabling him to purchase a firearm, and also whether health care and social services providers who interacted with Desmond were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries or domestic violence.

At the conclusion of the proceedings, Zimmer will file a written report with the Provincial Court containing his findings and recommendations. His report will not contain any findings of legal responsibility and a copy of the report will be provided to the Minister of Justice.

There has been no set timeline for the length of the hearing but Stairs indicated the schedule of the proceedings will depend primarily on the evidence and how it is presented.

To give a sense in how long these matters can take, the last time a fatality inquiry was held in Nova Scotia, which was 10-years-ago, it heard from 84 witnesses over 53 days, between July 2009 and June 10, 2010.

Stairs also confirmed that public space in the hearing room will be limited, and they expect there will be seating for between 12 and 16 people, depending how much space is required for counsel. There will also be a media room, two family rooms, and office space for counsel.

To ensure access, they have set up an overflow viewing area in the nearby Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex, and starting in September, the proceedings will be livestreamed on-line at: www.desmondinquiry.ca.