Veterans Affairs internal investigation not voluntarily released to fatality inquiry

PORT HAWKESBURY: Following the triple murder-suicide that claimed the lives of retired Cpl. Lionel Desmond, his wife Shanna, his mother Brenda and his 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah on Jan. 3, 2017, Veterans Affairs conducted their own internal investigation.

However the department, which was in charge of Desmond’s recovery for four years following a tour as an infantryman in Afghanistan before being medically discharged in 2015, refused to voluntarily release their conclusions with the provincial fatality inquiry.

As lawyers with Veterans Affairs were preparing for Desmond’s case manager to take the stand, they disclosed new information on the internal review to the inquiry counsel, more than a year after it first began hearing evidence.

Marie-Paule Doucette was supposed to take the stand last week but her subsequent testimony was re-scheduled to a later date by Judge Warren Zimmer, allowing him more time to review the information.

The inquiry was told the internal review fell outside of its scope and for that reason it wouldn’t be submitted. As it’s a fatality inquiry and not a public inquiry, the recommendations are only provincial in nature, and don’t include the federal government.

“The document has been provided to inquiry counsel, we’re still in the view that it’s covered by inter-jurisdictional immunity and outside the terms of reference,” Lori Ward, counsel for Veterans Affairs told the inquiry. “But we leave that determination to you.”

After initial reports were published on April 20 identifying Veterans Affairs intentions to withhold their investigation, Veterans Affairs Canada changed their mind and the review had been submitted to Zimmer to make a final decision on whether it falls within its mandate.

“The email was not expected to be a launching pad for criticism, but rather simply as a vehicle to inform counsel that there was new information that existed,” Zimmer said as hearings adjourned for the day. “I was disappointed today to wake up to broadcasts listening to matters being discussed about the inquiry and documents before I even had a chance to address them with counsel in this room.”

In an emailed statement to The Reporter, Adam Rodgers, the lawyer representing Desmond’s estate and his sister Cassandra said it was troubling to learn at this late stage that an internal review had been completed and not disclosed.

“There can be no doubt that whatever is in the report would be of assistance to our deliberations, and there is also no doubt that the withholding of the report must have been a deliberate act on the part of Veteran’s Affairs,” Rodgers said. “After pledging full support for this inquiry when it was called, VAC were asked up front to provide relevant material, and such a report as this internal review must have been among the most important and relevant documents they would have had in their possession.”

For this inquiry to have the outcomes that veterans and their families deserve, he said they need the best information available.

“VAC should be embracing the opportunity this inquiry provides, rather than hiding behind jurisdictional barriers,” Rodgers said. “For them to then withhold it can only lead to speculation that it contains facts or conclusions that are damaging to the military, to VAC, or to the Federal Government.”