The RCMP confirmed the deaths of the Desmond family during a press conference in Antigonish on January 4, 2017. Pictured is RCMP Inspector Lynn Young fielding questions.

HALIFAX: The province’s head medical examiner wants some answers.

On December 28, Nova Scotia Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Matt Bowes announced his recommendation of an inquiry into the deaths of Lionel Desmond and members of Desmond’s family.

On January 6, 2017, Antigonish RCMP confirmed four people passed away as a result of a triple homicide and suicide three days prior in Upper Big Tracadie. The victims were 10-year-old Aaliyah Desmond, 52-year-old Brenda Desmond, 31-year-old Shanna Desmond, and 33-year-old Lionel Desmond.


“Lionel Desmond’s terminal trajectory had numerous places where various government agencies touched his live,” said Dr. Bowes. “There were, at least in my view, many touch points for intervention in his story. There were obviously opportunities that were not taken and I think that any time you see a terribly tragic event like this, where there were opportunities for intervention and regrettably nothing was done, I think that it would be fair to want an inquiry into that kind of thing.”

Dr. Bowes said the real complexity in this case has been the degree to which the federal government would play a role but he is pleased the federal government has agreed to cooperate with the inquiry. The doctor said a lot of Lionel Desmond’s issues and touch points occurred under a federal mandate.

“I am optimistic that there will be some good results from this,” said Dr. Bowes. “Mr. Desmond was a member of the Armed Forces and so the origin of his mental illness I think is arguably within activities he performed on behalf of the Armed Forces, which is a federal department and much of his post illness care, I guess if you could call it that, occurred under a federal mandate as well.”

Dr. Bowes said the next step is for the Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey to set the terms of reference for the inquiry, which Dr. Bowes understands should happen within a few months time. Then the chief justice has to appoint a judge to convene the inquiry.

“I am not sure when we will see the first witness testify in the inquiry… but certainly the next steps should occur in the next little while,” said Dr. Bowes.

As part of the preliminary investigation last year, the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner’s Office conducted autopsies confirming all four individuals died as a result of gunshot wounds. Further investigation also confirmed Lionel Desmond’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted and, as a result, confirmed the incident was a triple homicide and suicide.

Last spring, the province’s medical examiner decided against a medical examiner inquiry in relation to the Desmonds. At the time, Department of Justice media relations officer Sarah Gillis stated that “a medical examiner inquiry would not appropriately address any potential systemic issues or concerns in these cases.”