The family of an Afghan war veteran involved in a triple murder-suicide in rural Nova Scotia is disappointed that a long-awaited fatality inquiry has been pushed back again, further delaying findings that could improve care for other former soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The provincial inquiry was set to begin on Monday to examine the circumstances that may have led Canadian Armed Forces veteran Lionel Desmond to shoot and kill his wife, Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his mother, Brenda, and then himself in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. on Jan. 3, 2017.
But at the inquiry’s start, Thomas Macdonald, the new lawyer representing Shanna’s parents, Thelma and Ricky Borden, asked Justice Warren Zimmer for a delay to review the thousands of pages of documents to be admitted as evidence. Mr. Macdonald was hired three days before the start of the inquiry, after the Bordens decided to switch lawyers.
The inquiry will now resume on Jan. 27 in Guysborough, N.S., more than three years after the triple murder-suicide.
Mr. Desmond’s four sisters emphasized they respect the Bordens’ right to have full participation in the inquiry, but are also frustrated by the delay.
“It put a damper on my heart,” Diane Desmond-Spencer, Mr. Desmond’s eldest sister, said of the fatality inquiry’s delay. “I believe that the longer we wait is another day that we lose a veteran and we need to get closure.”
The toll of the tragedy has weighed heavily on both sides of the family. The Bordens hired a new lawyer because their son, Sheldon Borden, wanted legal representation that could also help them in their bid to push the federal government to pay for a new home. His parents live in the trailer where the triple murder-suicide took place and do not have the means to buy a new home.
“There’s nothing the inquiry can do to bring back my sister and my niece but this is the right step to getting the military’s upper brass to step in,” Sheldon Borden said.
Lawyers for the Desmond family opposed further delay, contending the probe’s lessons and recommendations were too important to postpone.
“Our Canadian Forces military members, veterans and their family members are looking for those solutions now,” lawyer Tara Miller said. “The delay of this inquiry impacts the implementation of solutions and help for all of those who struggle with operational stress injuries.”
Already, the fatality inquiry involving both provincial and federal agencies had been set back several times owing to scheduling conflicts and to allow lawyers time to pore over 60,000 pages of documents. In his decision on Monday, Justice Zimmer acknowledged the far-reaching national interests of the inquiry, but disagreed that the additional delay would stall action.
“The delay here does not prevent the Department of National Defence or the Department of Veterans Affairs from conducting their own reviews, nor does it stop the provincial government from having discussions with the federal government to identify issues that may have impacted Lionel Desmond and his family,” he said.
“We should not feel pressure to get started with the evidence. We should simply feel pressure to get it right.”
The inquiry will examine whether Mr. Desmond’s family had access to appropriate mental-health care and domestic violence intervention services. It will also consider the circumstances of Mr. Desmond’s release from St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., on the eve of the triple murder-suicide.
In addition, the inquiry will look into the obstacles in obtaining military medical records and how Mr. Desmond, who had been diagnosed with PTSD and major depression while in the military, was able to have his firearm licence reinstated.
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