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An inquiry into the triple murder-suicide of a family in rural Nova Scotia is set to resume on Monday.
The hearing into the death of Lionel Desmond, his mother, wife and daughter was delayed shortly after it began in Nov. 2019, after families involved in the hearing requested an adjournment.
The inquiry’s commissioner confirmed to media that the parents of Demond’s wife Shanna had replaced their lawyer only days before the hearing was set to begin.
Ricky and Thelma Borden’s new lawyer, Tom Macdonald, told Zimmer he needed time to review the files before the inquiry, which include more than 120,000 pages of evidence.
Despite opposition by the lawyer’s from two of Desmond’s four sisters, the inquiry was recessed until Jan. 27, in order to ensure the process was fair for the Borden family.
“Would it result in an actual or perceived unfairness to the Borden family in the circumstances?” Zimmerman asked.
“I would say, likely, because they would be here unprepared, not engaged the way they would like to be and have the right to be.”
The death of Lionel Desmond
On Jan. 3, 2017, Lionel Desmond bought a rifle and shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah, and his mother Brenda, 52, before killing himself with a shot to the head.
The 33-year-old retired corporal had been diagnosed with PTSD after two tours in Afghanistan in 2007.
In the months after the murder-suicide, relatives repeatedly said Desmond had sought treatment for his mental illness and post-concussion disorder. They said he never got the help he needed.
Cassandra Desmond, who lost her mother, only brother and his entire family in the murder-suicide, has said she hopes the recommendations from the inquiry will help prevent similar deaths.
Cassandra and her twin sister Chantel have fought a lengthy, public battle to persuade the provincial government to launch the inquiry, arguing that Desmond’s experience in Afghanistan had a profound and lasting impact on his personality.
The pair have said that when their brother returned home in 2015 he was a shell of who he used to be; with his humour having disappeared and an appearance of being constantly on the defensive as if he was still in combat.
The inquiry will also investigate whether the healthcare and social services providers Desmond dealt with were properly trained to recognize the occupational stress injuries he had received.
This is one of the rare times that a fatality inquiry will be carried out in Nova Scotia. The last time the government called for such an inquiry was in 2008.
Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Matt Bowes, was one of the officials who recommended that an inquiry be held under the province’s Fatality Investigations Act.
Bowes had recommended that an inquiry be held after reviewing the deaths. He has said his initial review of the case indicated a lack of co-operation between government agencies, saying the “interconnection between all of those may well have been better.”
As part of the hearing, provincial officials will also be asked if they faced restrictions when trying to gain access to Desmond’s federal health records.
Among those expected to testify in the coming weeks are representatives for the federal attorney general, who will speak for Health Canada, Veterans Affairs, the RCMP and the federal Public Safety Department.
Nova Scotia’s attorney general’s office will speak for the involvement of the provincial departments of Justice, Health, Education and Community Services, as well as the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Zimmer will eventually file a report containing his findings and recommendations.
It will not contain any findings of legal responsibility.
—With files from Rebecca Lau, Jesse Thomas and the Canadian Press
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