After hearing six weeks of testimony, the Desmond fatality inquiry has wrapped up its first session in Guysborough, N.S.
But the family of Lionel Desmond says one topic has yet to be addressed: the issue of alleged race and racism within the military ranks.
Sheldon Borden is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and the brother-in-law of Desmond. He says he’s been following the fatality inquiry closely and admits it has been difficult and even troubling at times.
Borden has 10 years of experience with the Canadian Armed Forces, and like his brother-in-law, Borden himself is dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I suffer myself from PTSD, from racism in the military, and from the tragedy that happened,” said Borden.
It was on Jan. 1, 2017 when Desmond purchased a high-calibre rifle, went to the home of his in-laws and shot and killed his wife Shanna, mother Brenda and daughter Aaliyah before killing himself.
Ricky and Thelma Borden still live at the home where the tragedy unfolded. An advocate for the family says that’s only extending the trauma for the entire family.
“I’ve been at the home several times and the mother is still distraught, and the dad and Sheldon,” said Rubin Coward, a former military member, and advocate for the Borden family.
“Distraught by virtue that they have to remain almost in a prison, a prison where the tragedy took place and every day it’s a reminder.”
Coward has applied for standing at the Desmond fatality inquiry hoping to address the family’s concerns, including what role race played in Lionel Desmond’s mental health issues.
Testimony at the fatality inquiry heard details surrounding some of the trauma that Desmond sustained during his deployments in Afghanistan, and his subsequent struggles with mental health, following his medical discharge from the army in 2015.
In the years that followed Desmond struggled to access help, but his family said there were red flags that were either missed or ignored by medical officials who worked with the soldier.
“Lionel has been exposed to racism since day one,” said Borden, who lived with his brother-in-law and his family in their Oromocto, N.B., home.
“He’s the reason why I joined the military,” said Borden. “I lived with him since Grade 12.”
Borden says he remembers Desmond coming home from work at CFB Gagetown base and complaining of the racist taunts he’d received from fellow military members.
“(Lionel) would come home almost daily and complain about the racism he was exposed to,” said Borden.
In hindsight, Borden says the military system wasn’t made for people of colour.
“This is the country that I’m serving?” questioned Borden, who says he dealt with his own racism in the military. “It makes me take a big step back and see that this system isn’t built for a person like me, a person like Lionel.”
Coward says he wants to see the Borden family helped out and moved from their home where the tragedy unfolded. He’s looking at the Canadian Armed Forces to help facilitate that move.
“It’s disgraceful that that tragedy happened almost four years ago now and the family have been compelled to live in the same home as the tragedy has taken place,” said Coward.
The family has petitioned the government all the way up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeking support, but say they have not received the support they are looking for.
“How does a reasonable person expect these people to heal? I think there needs to be a public outcry so this family in immediately removed from that environment just so they can begin to heal,” said Borden.
The Desmond fatality inquiry will resume in May.