It’s been nearly four years since former Canadian soldier Lionel Desmond killed his mother, wife and daughter before taking his own life.
The murder-suicide prompted the Desmond Fatality inquiry which began hearing evidence in January 2020, in a small courtroom in the rural town of Guysborough, Nova Scotia. The inquiry continued until March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a halt in the proceedings but lawyers involved said the goal was to resume the inquiry in the summer or early fall.
“We were given some pretty solid assurances that there would be one or two sessions in the fall with the goal of probably wrapping up the inquiry evidence by February or March (2021),” said Adam Rogers, a lawyer for Cassandra Desmond, the sister of Lionel Desmond.
Rodgers and lawyer Tara Miller who represents Chantel Desmond, the twin-sister of Cassandra, said that inquiry counsel along with justice Warren Zimmer who is presiding over the Fatality inquiry did some groundwork and were able to locate another venue to host the proceedings and dates were set to resume testimony.
The Port Hawkesbury Justice Centre was booked from Nov. 16 until Dec. 11 and during the four-weeks of scheduled testimony, they were to hear from family members and those close to Desmond, as well as the physicians and health-care providers who treated him in New Brunswick, and staff at a Veteran Affairs hospital in Montreal.
“The courthouse had actually been booked in terms of scheduling off and blocking rooms for the inquiry,” said Miller, but the dates have since been cancelled and the inquiry will no longer resume this year.
“Approval apparently needs to be given by the province or the Department of Justice to move the location from Guysborough and that decision or approval as we understand it, has not yet been given,” said Miller.
The Department of Justice declined an interview request but issued a statement saying it is continuing to work with the Inquiry counsel and Justice Warren Zimmer to consider possible modifications or alternative arrangements so that the hearings can proceed safely and in compliance with all Public Health requirements during the pandemic.
“Port Hawkesbury is among the options currently under consideration. We hope to have a resolution soon, in the meantime our work continues,” said the department.
Considering one of the main goals of the inquiry is to probe the effects of PTSD, the Desmond family says, further delays only lead to more stress for everyone involved.
“Shame on them, honestly that they think they can push it further down the road. I just can’t believe it, it’s despicable,” said Chantel Desmond in a phone interview with Global News.
Chantel Desmond was the first person on the scene that January night in 2017 and witnessed the horror inside the Borden family home and now she herself has been diagnosed with PTSD.
“The images still go through my head sometimes,” said Chantel, who was prepared to give her witness testimony in November.
“It just takes a lot of preparing mentally and it honest to God just drains you,” she said. “It’s very hard so I can imagine what the rest of the family is going through and especially the Borden side.”
Desmond, an Afghan war veteran struggled with the effects of PTSD and in January 2017 purchased a high calibre rifle and shot his 52-year-old mother Brenda Desmond, 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his wife Shanna Desmond, in the Upper Big Tracadie home of Shanna’s parents Thelma and Richard Borden, before turning the gun on himself.
In an email, the Nova Scotia Judiciary confirms the Desmond Fatality Inquiry will be held in a new location when the proceedings resume but there is no timeline set.
Miller says there needs to be a swift resolution to the facility issue and it’s up to the Department of Justice to act quickly.
“These families are looking at, at least five years from the date of the tragedy and that’s an unimaginable burden to have to bear for that long,” said Miller.
In the meantime, the spokesperson for the NS Judiciary says the Inquiry counsel is continuing its work interviewing and preparing witnesses and providing all information to counsel, and all research required for the next stage.