Desmond Investigation: Nova Scotia Investigation into Shooting Tragedy Facing Complex Challenges | The Canadian News

Almost five years after Afghan war veteran Lionel Desmond killed three members of his family and himself, an investigation is expected to come to an end next month in Nova Scotia and questions remain about what it can accomplish. .

Before the province approved the provincial fatality investigation on December 28, 2017, Nova Scotia Chief Medical Examiner Matt Bowes told then-Attorney General Mark Furey it was not a good idea.

“Many of the problems related to these deaths are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government or are interconnected with areas of provincial jurisdiction,” Bowes told Furey in a letter presented on December 1, 2017 as evidence in the investigation.

“A (provincial) investigation cannot make recommendations on matters under federal jurisdiction.”

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At the time, Bowes recommended a joint federal-provincial investigation, saying Ottawa’s stated willingness to cooperate with a provincial investigation could turn out to be an empty promise. A Nova Scotia government spokeswoman later confirmed that Furey had requested a joint investigation, but Ottawa rejected it.

That left Bowes with little choice but to call for a provincial investigation and hope for the best.

Among other things, the provincial investigation has investigated the circumstances that led to the murders in Upper Big Tracadie, NS, on January 3, 2017. That day, Desmond entered his family’s home dressed in camouflage clothing and shot his wife, Shanna, 31. his 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before shooting himself.

The 33-year-old retired infantryman had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011 after completing a particularly violent tour of Afghanistan in 2007. He had also been diagnosed with major depression, and subsequent tests indicated that he may have had brain trauma. . injury.

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In the immediate aftermath of the triple murder-suicide, friends and family said Desmond did not receive the help he needed from two federal entities, the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada, as he attempted to transition to civilian life in 2015-16.

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On the first day of the investigation’s public hearings on January 27, 2020, Bowes testified that he was still concerned about the limited scope of the investigation and its “potentially limited role” in obtaining information from Ottawa. Six months later, with the investigation on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then-Nova Scotia Prime Minister Stephen McNeil said the investigation was flawed because it “does not have the federal government as an equal partner.”

But as the investigation progressed, something extraordinary happened.

All federal witnesses asked to testify did so. And all the federal documents requested by the investigating attorney were turned over without protest except one, and even that Veterans Affairs report was finally examined and made public.

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Allen Murray, lead attorney for the investigation, says the investigation had the power to subpoena witnesses and order the release of documents, but that never happened.

“The federal government has been very forthcoming,” Murray said in a recent interview. “We learned a lot about (Desmond’s) interaction with federal entities.”

In total, the investigation heard the testimony of 70 witnesses during 45 days of hearings that were sidetracked by the pandemic for almost a year.

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In addition to investigating the circumstances of the four deaths and Desmond’s interactions with provincial health and firearms officials, the investigation was tasked with determining whether he had access to mental health and domestic violence services. The research also investigated whether health and social service providers were trained to recognize symptoms of domestic violence.

Certainly, the investigation cannot make any recommendation for change within the areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction, which include the policies and procedures of the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs and the RCMP. Still, Murray said the investigation will have a degree of freedom when it comes to addressing the federal government’s role in the tragedy.

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Some of the research terms of reference speak to the interaction between the two levels of government, including the provincial administration of the federal firearms program and provincial access to federal medical records.

“The two levels of government are not watertight compartments,” Murray said. “They interact.”

That interaction is at the center of the research.

The man presiding over the hearings, Provincial Court Judge Warren Zimmer, has repeatedly cited testimony indicating that Desmond “went through the cracks” after he left a veteran treatment program at a Montreal hospital in August 2016 and returned home to Nova Scotia.

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The investigation has heard that over the next four months, a Veterans Affairs case manager, Marie-Paule Doucette, was responsible for helping Desmond find provincial mental health services to help him cope. But that process was plagued by delays and bureaucratic problems, leaving Desmond without real therapeutic treatment as his mental health deteriorated.

During that crucial period, Desmond sought help from two local hospitals in eastern Nova Scotia, but the doctors he met were unable to obtain his federal health records, which clearly indicated how ill he was.

Attorney Adam Rodgers, who represents the Desmond estate, said this key finding should result in recommendations for change, despite the jurisdictional limitations of the investigation.

“With joint federal-provincial issues, such as ensuring the transfer of medical records from the army to the provincial health authority, we can remain within provincial jurisdiction recommending that the health authority work with the military to develop a transfer protocol,” he said in a recent email.

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And even if the inner workings of Veterans Affairs and the other federal entities are outside the bounds of the final investigation recommendations, there is nothing to stop Zimmer from commenting on what he learned at the hearings, Rodgers said.

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“For more purely federal matters, such as what appear to be unreasonable bureaucratic restrictions placed on Veterans Affairs case managers, we may not be able to frame them as recommendations,” he said.

“But we definitely need to talk about Veterans Affairs. In his final report, Judge Zimmer has the right to comment on these factors and perhaps point to them as contributing factors to this tragedy. “

The investigation was postponed until January 10, when time has been set aside to hear from other witnesses, but it is unclear if that will happen. Final presentations from participating attorneys are expected in late January or early February.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 29, 2021.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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