MARCH: Shutdown starts after first cases of COVID-19 confirmed

    Photo by Jake Boudrot This tribute to essential workers in West Arichat is one of many around the Strait area for workers on the front-lines during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

    GUYSBOROUGH: Nova Scotia’s chief firearms officer doesn’t have the authority to ask for an additional medical opinion after reinstating a firearms licence, unless the applicant gets flagged by the RCMP, a doctor, or a citizen from the community.

    John Parkin testified at the Desmond Fatality Inquiry that once a possession and acquisition licence is approved, it remains valid for five-years, unless the Provincial Firearms Office (PFO) has a reason to place it under review.

    In making sure the mental health status of applicants doesn’t change, Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Warren Zimmer, questioned Parkin if it was possible for the PFO to systematically check on firearms licence holders if they’ve had a history with a mental illness.

    Parkin told the inquiry the PFO would be wary to impose a policy of mental status checks because of potential legal concerns.

    Zimmer told Parkin he should expect to be called back to provide advice regarding whether his recommendations could be adopted by the PFO.

    GUYSBOROUGH: Three-hours before Shanna Desmond was fatally shot by her husband, she requested information on the process of obtaining a peace bond by calling a domestic violence crisis line.

    The executive director of the Naomi Society in Antigonish testified that on Jan. 3, 2017 – the same day retired Cpl. Lionel Desmond killed his wife, mother, and 10-year-old daughter before turning the gun on himself – she received a call from the veteran’s wife.

    Nicole Mann told the inquiry on Feb. 25, that her organization received an anonymous call shortly after 3 p.m. from a woman requesting what she called as “routine information.”

    The local non-profit group – which offers support to women and children facing domestic violence – can provide personal, one-on-one advice over the phone, but complying with their privacy policy the group keeps the identity of callers confidential, unless that information is provided by the caller.

    In this case, Shanna didn’t provide her name.

    Mann testified when she learned of the triple murder-suicide the following morning after receiving word from a partner organization Shanna Desmond was one of four victims, she remembered with their call lasting approximately 20-minutes that was the name she remembered seeing on the phone’s call display – a feature that has since been removed.

    Reading from a statement she gave to RCMP, Mann indicated she explained various options to the caller including how to obtain legal advice, how to apply for a peace bond and whether it would cover her daughter as well.

    Mann told the inquiry at one point during their phone call, the woman referenced her 10-year-old daughter, in which she made a point to ask about their safety – if they were at risk of being harmed and if the RCMP should be notified.

    Shanna didn’t feel her family was in any immediate danger and she didn’t fear her husband, Mann testified, but she had confided to her that other people had suggested she should be concerned her husband was unfit to be around their daughter.

    It was at this point, Shanna mentioned her partner was a former soldier.

    To Mann, the caller truly just seemed to be seeking advice and was simply gathering resources in the case she needed them.

    During her testimony, Mann suggested someone is most at risk when they are trying to leave a violent relationship.

    Within an hour of Shanna ending her call with the Naomi Society, Desmond had already entered Leaves & Limbs Sports in Antigonish, where he purchased a Soviet-era SKS 7.62, semi-automatic military-style carbine that he would use to murder his wife, mother and 10-year-old daughter.

    Dan Kulaneck, the owner of Leaves & Limbs Sports testified he couldn’t believe it when he heard Desmond used the gun he purchased at his store to murder his family before committing suicide.

    He told the inquiry Desmond seemed to be “very calm, very collected and very patient,” during their approximately 15-minute interaction mere hours before the killings.

    When asked by inquiry counsel whether the tragedy has weighed on him, Kulaneck lowered his voice and whimpered “Yes,” as he wiped tears away from his eyes.

    Nicole Mann

    GUYSBOROUGH: The New Brunswick doctor who signed off on retired Cpl. Lionel Desmond’s firearms licence review described the 33-year-old veteran on the medical assessment as “non-suicidal and stable,” along with having “no concerns for firearms usage with appropriate licence.”

    Fredericton-based physician, Dr. Paul Smith, who specializes in the assessment and utilization of medical marijuana, particularly with veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), testified he hadn’t realized his medical opinion would carry as much weight as it did and it is the only one the provincial firearms office (PFO) would consider under its review.

    He testified that he believed Desmond’s firearms possession and acquisition licence would be rejected by the RCMP or another agency noting on several occasions all he had to do was put a checkmark in a box that he agreed his patient didn’t pose a risk to himself or the public by owning a firearm.

    Previous evidence heard by the inquiry suggested Dr. Smith’s one-line assessment proved to be the influencing factor for New Brunswick’s acting chief firearms officer.

    The physician told the inquiry he first met Cpl. Desmond on July 2, 2015 after being referred to him by a fellow veteran to look at cannabis as an alternative medicine to treat his severe PTSD and major depression as his military-prescribed prescription drugs were no longer working.

    Despite tipping the charts in hyper-vigilance, depression, flashbacks, anger and feeling disconnected, Desmond personally rated his suicidal thoughts at six, while Dr. Smith testified he assessed his suicidal ideation at zero.

    Prescribed a ceiling-dose of 10-grams of cannabis per day, Desmond subsequently stopped taking all of his other pharmaceuticals including anti-depressants and sleep-aids.

    According to Dr. Smith, in a follow-up appointment only three-months-later on Oct. 1, 2015, Desmond reported significant improvements with his symptoms including his anxiety, poor sleeping, anger, agitation and chronic pain had all diminished to almost nothing since starting on medical marijuana.

    Despite those positive results, Dr. Smith told the inquiry about a conversation he had with Desmond regarding a phone call he received a few weeks prior from Shanna indicating her husband was “acting aggressively and appeared to be in a manic state.”

    Dr. Smith explained Desmond insisted he wasn’t in a manic state and rather informed him he was frustrated with his wife for causing financial hardship and the couple was headed for a separation.

    During their last appointment together on Feb. 23, 2016, Desmond indicated he was no longer using medical marijuana as he was preparing for his admittance after being referred to an in-patient facility in Montréal to seek medical therapy for his PTSD.

    Dr. Smith told the inquiry, it was only then Desmond requested his signature on a medical assessment form from the chief firearms officer in New Brunswick to reinstate his firearms licence.

    The form described how Desmond’s firearms were confiscated in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and his licence was placed under review because he was arrested under New Brunswick’s Mental Health Protection Act on Nov. 27, 2015.

    Dr. Smith was unaware of two separate incidents in November 2015 when Nova Scotia RCMP responded to reports of Desmond acting in an aggressive manner.

    When asked as to why he filled out the medical assessment for Desmond’s firearms review, Dr. Smith explained the former soldier hadn’t seemed to be suicidal when they met, and appeared to have been maintaining a stable mindset ever since starting treatment on medical marijuana.

    HALIFAX: The province recorded its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus.

    Earlier in the day, the Government of Canada, issued sweeping travel restrictions asking Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice, and closed its borders to all international visitors with the exception of Americans, diplomats and flight crews.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government would also mandate airlines to complete a basic health assessment of anyone travelling, and anyone who may be displaying symptoms would not be allowed to travel to Canada.

    After Nova Scotia recorded its first three presumptive cases of COVID-19, Premier Stephen McNeil announced additional prevention measures under the authority of the Health Protection Act.

    The province required anyone who travelled outside Canada to self-isolate for 14 days upon return, even if they were symptom-free.

    In addition to the self-isolation requirement, long-term care facilities were closed to all visitors, public schools were closed, all licensed and unlicensed childcare providers were required to close, and organizations and businesses were asked to practice social distancing of two metres. This applied to restaurants, bars, movie theatres, and other gathering spots.

    StFX University cancelled in-person classes for the remainder of the year moved to online or alternative learning. While the campus remained open to students and faculty, it was closed to the public.

    The NSCC Strait Area Campus suspended classes, allowing time to prepare for alternative forms of learning.

    Throughout the Strait area, numerous recreation facilities, community centres and arenas closed and all municipal in-person events were postponed.

    The Eastern counties regional libraries closed all libraries, Strait Area Transit focused on providing essential services, and Nova Scotia Power implemented a pandemic contingency plan.

    HALIFAX: After too many people broke social isolation rules, the province declared a State of Emergency.

    Under the declaration, people could not gather in social groups larger than five. Those deemed essential and exempt from gathering limits include grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies. If possible, one person per family was designated to do these tasks. Other groups include construction sites, health care services, community services, criminal justice services, and law enforcement.

    Any workplace or business that was not deemed essential could remain open as long as a two-metre  distance can be maintained. Workspaces also had to be cleaned and disinfected at a minimum of twice daily, or as required, and employees must follow proper hygiene.

    Dentists could longer practice dentistry in their offices unless they deemed it necessary to perform an emergency dental procedure in the best interest of their patient’s health.

    Since all provincial parks, beaches and tourist attractions were closed, those who entered could have their cars towed and be charged with trespassing. Provincial trails remained open for exercise.

    Nova Scotia’s borders were tightened to travellers and all entry points were closely managed. Nova Scotians could only leave if essential. Anyone entering the province was stopped, questioned and told to self-isolate for 14 days. Exemptions for cross-border travel included health workers in trades and transportations sectors who move goods and people; health people going to work; and people travelling into the province for essential health services.

    Under the Health Protection Act, police could enforce self-isolation and social distancing by issuing summary offence tickets, levying fines and making arrests, as well individuals could be fined $1,000 per day and businesses $7,500.

    Police could also enforce offences under the Emergency Management Act, such as charging higher than fair market prices for goods and services

    PORT HAWKESBURY: The Strait Area Chamber of Commerce took measures to help businesses affected by COVD-19 and increase public safety.

    Two Facebook groups, both of which were setup by the chamber, detail what local businesses offered in terms of deliveries, take-outs, and any other means of contributing to public safety.

    One is Businesses that Deliver – Southern Cape Breton/Northern Mainland, and the other is Businesses that Deliver Northern Cape Breton.

    The groups were meant to support small businesses, and to give the public safer access to the things they needed. Any business could post there to detail their delivery services, take-out services, or some other means of contributing to public safety.

    Photo by Drake Lowthers — Officials with the Town of Port Hawkesbury are seen on the GoToMeetings application during their historic Apr. 7 virtual council meeting held to observe social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    STRAIT AREA: Provincial officials, businesses, municipalities, churches, and local organizations  dealt with the shock waves from the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

    All Port Hawkesbury Town Council meetings and public committee meetings were held through virtual meeting software. Public and media access to meetings were available through recordings posted to the town’s Facebook site.

    The Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, the arena and walking track, the fitness centre, the Public Works Department garage and treatment buildings were all closed to the public.

    The counties of Richmond, Inverness, Antigonish and the Town of Antigonish closed their administration offices, as well as the Antigonish Arena, Inverness’ infrastructure and emergency services building in Strathlorne, and the Eastern District Planning Office.

    All recreation activities in Antigonish were cancelled.

    A COVID-19 assessment centre opened at Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital.

    Parks Canada temporarily suspended all visitor services in all national parks, national historic sites, including the St. Peter’s Canal, and national marine conservation areas across the country.

    The Regional Occupation Society also decided to close the ROC Store.

    As the Diocese of Antigonish decided to cancel Sunday and week day Masses, REACH Church in Port Hawkesbury, and other congregations across the region, decided to cancel services.

    PORT HAWKESBURY: Businesses were told to cease operations and Nova Scotia hospitals directed to close their doors to most visitors.

    To allow for social distancing in providing primary care services, doctors were able to provide care via telephone and video conferencing.

    Pharmacists were able to provide virtual-services and no longer be required to conduct their clinical services in-person.

    In a move to reduce the risk of drug shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists limited a patients’ supply to a 30-day amount.

    In earlier releases on the same day, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and IWK Health Centre announced a no-general-visit policy. Pediatric patients and women in labour were each permitted only one support person.

    Premier Stephen McNeil also announced all personal services, such as hair salons, barber shops, spas, nail salons, body art and fitness establishments had to shut down.

    All service providers funded through the Community Services Department’s disabilities support program, including social enterprise, day programs, along with supported employment programs for adults with diverse abilities closed to both participants and the public.

    ANTIGONISH: The Government of Nova Scotia, along with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and the IWK Health Centre, increased measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    The NSHA and IWK suspended all non-urgent and elective services; restaurants were only able to provide take-out and drive-thru services and all bars were ordered to close.

    The NSHA and IWK limited surgical procedures to urgent and emergent cases only.

    The health authority announced some services were being reduced or suspended.

    All Access Nova Scotia and Motor Vehicle Offices temporarily closed and reopened on Mar. 25 using new ways of offering services while minimizing contact.