Officer who approved Cpl. Desmond’s firearm did not have all the needed information to make that decision

PORT HAWKESBURY: The officer who reviewed Cpl. Lionel Desmond’s firearm licence testified on March 23, had he been made aware of his run-ins with the police and struggles with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he may have suspended his licence.

Joe Roper, a former New Brunswick firearms officer with the province’s public safety department, indicated he was assigned to review Cpl. Desmond’s license renewal in September 2014, while he was still an active member stationed at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown.

After failing to disclose that he suffered from PTSD, his application was “flagged” when one of Desmond’s references explained he was trying to cope with the mental illness.

Upon checking with Cpl. Desmond behind the reasoning for him not answering whether he had been diagnosed or treated for depression, substance abuse or behavioural problems, Roper suggested it was because it didn’t have the specific condition PTSD listed.

“I accepted his version of why he answered no. He was pleasant on the phone and he was easy to deal with,” Roper said. “I didn’t think he was as troubled as he was.”

He told the inquiry he later approved Cpl. Desmond’s renewal, after speaking with Dr. Vinod Joshi, his military psychiatrist, who confirmed he didn’t have an issue with the infantryman keeping his firearms licence because he was on a treatment plan taking medications, he didn’t show any signs of psychosis and had never spoke about self-harm or violent thoughts towards others.

However, just over a year later on Dec. 29, 2015, Roper was once again asked to conduct an investigation after the chief firearms officer received information from the Canadian Firearms Information System that the now retired Cpl. Desmond was the focus of a complaint issued to New Brunswick RCMP.

This time, his firearms licence was suspended.

Roper testified he was unaware when reviewing Desmond’s case in 2016 that he had a new psychiatrist and psychologist, both of whom were recommending the former infantryman for in-patient psychiatric treatment at Ste. Anne’s Hospital.

He later received a medical assessment from Dr. Paul Smith, who stated he supported the reinstatement of Desmond’s licence because his patient was “non-suicidal and stable” and he had “no concerns for firearms usage.”

Desmond’s firearms licence was reinstated on Feb. 29, 2016.

“I didn’t think there was an issue,” Roper testified.

Blaming the lack of access to police reports, he explained there was confusion over the incidents involving the RCMP in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, noting he didn’t know the RCMP conducted a “wellness check” on Desmond in Nova Scotia just nine-days before his apparent suicide attempt in New Brunswick.

“If I had been able to speak with the officers and got all the facts, certainly the decision may have been different,” Roper said. “I was shocked when this was brought to my attention.”

Julie Beauchesne, an occupational therapist and clinical coordinator at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, told the inquiry on March 24, after leaving the in-patient program, Desmond’s continuity of care would have been “essential” to his overall wellbeing.

Beauchesne suggested he required both a functional and a neurocognitive assessment, however, neither assessment occurred when Desmond returned to Nova Scotia.

She testified the functional assessment would have been conducted inside the Desmond home to see how he handled his daily environment, and it would have been able to precisely indicate what support he needed.

A few of Desmond’s symptoms, such as how often he became agitated and how difficult it was for him to concentrate, revealed that he may have a neurological disorder.

After administering a 30-question test that resulted in Desmond having a “mild cognitive impairment,” Beauchesne said more testing would have needed to be completed to find out the root cause.

Desmond’s move from New Brunswick, where he’d been living while serving at CFB Gagetown, to his family home in Upper Big Tracadie, looks as if it played a fundamental factor in the gap in his continuity of care.

Judge Warren Zimmer highlighted how Dr. Ian Slayter saw Desmond in the emergency room at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital on Oct. 24, 2016, and noted after having no follow-up care in the two months since being discharged from the in-patient program, he couldn’t sleep, he was having nightmares, didn’t have an appetite, he felt angry and struggled with his aggression, and continued to have paranoid thoughts.

“It suggests to me that there was a substantial and serious degradation in mental health from August 15 to October 24.”