ANTIGONISH, N.S. – Nova Scotia’s health authority has agreed to meet with Lionel Desmond’s immediate family next week, almost six months after the former Canadian soldier fatally shot his mother, wife, daughter and himself in a horrific murder-suicide that renewed debate over how Canada treats former military members with post-traumatic stress disorder.
One of Desmond’s sisters, Chantel, confirmed Monday that the Nova Scotia Health Authority has scheduled a meeting for June 28 at St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., a half-hour drive from Lionel Desmond’s home in Upper Big Tracadie.
“I feel good, actually,” Chantel Desmond said about the meeting.
The meeting is important to the family because it is expected to focus on the authority’s confidential review of how the province’s health-care system dealt with Lionel Desmond before the killings on or about Jan. 3.
Chantel and her sister Cassandra Desmond have said their brother told them he was turned away from the hospital when he sought help from its mental-health unit in the days before the shootings, but a hospital spokesman has denied similar claims from other family members.
The twin sisters recently joined a growing list of advocacy groups in calling for a broader fatality inquiry, saying they have yet to receive any useful information from public officials, including the RCMP, Defence Department, Veterans Affairs Canada and the provincial government.
Premier Stephen McNeil, whose Liberals were re-elected only a few weeks ago, declined a request for an interview Monday. Instead, he issued a statement saying the next step is for the health authority to speak with the immediate families of the victims.
The review was completed in March, which has prompted the Desmond family to complain about delays.
“We understand the frustration family members are experiencing as they question what happened,” the premier said in his statement.
The sisters have been asking for records and reports to help them understand why their brother killed himself and his family in their rural home, and they say they want an independent inquiry to help prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
Such inquiries are rare in Nova Scotia. The most recent judicial fatality inquiry wrapped up in late 2010 when provincial court Judge Anne Derrick presented a 460-page report on the jail cell death of Howard Hyde, a mentally ill man who died after jail guards restrained him on the floor during a psychotic episode.
Lionel Desmond, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, took his own life after shooting his 52-year-old mother Brenda, his 31-year-old wife Shanna, and their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah. Since then, friends and family members have complained he did not get the help he needed after he was medically discharged from the military in 2015.
Chantel Desmond has said the family’s priority is to have the province’s medical examiner, Dr. Matthew Bowes, order a fatality inquiry. Nova Scotia’s new justice minister, Mark Furey, also has the power to do so under the Fatality Investigations Act.
Neither Furey nor Bowes could be reached for comment Monday.
Furey issued a statement late Monday, saying the government’s priority is “ensuring the care provided to Mr. Desmond has been reviewed comprehensively, and if there are areas determined to be inadequate, that those issues be addressed and result in a better system for all Nova Scotians.”
Bowes has said he, too, is waiting to see the review from the health authority, and he has said he will take into consideration the views of immediate family members if he finds the review is lacking.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.
Follow @NovaMac on Twitter