After a week of emotional testimony from the family and friends who knew Lionel Desmond best, the inquiry will finally hear from the military medical experts who treated and worked with Desmond while he was still enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Desmond was diagnosed with severe PTSD in 2011 after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where combat conditions were described as “horrific” and “brutal,” according to last week’s testimony by fellow soldier Orlando Trotter. Trotter had trained with Desmond during their 2007 deployment in Afghanistan.
Trotter testified that their unit was engaged in gun battle with the Taliban almost daily for six straight months.
“You take somebody like (Desmond) and put him in a war zone … It destroyed him,” Trotter said on the witness stand.
Lawyer Adam Rodgers represents Desmond’s estate and says through testimony it’s clear that Desmond wasn’t prepared for the kind of combat that awaited him in Afghanistan.
“The missing piece to that seems to be, that before somebody goes into combat, there’s no analysis of their psychiatric makeup,” said Rodgers.
Cassandra Desmond fought long and hard for a fatality inquiry to be called for the triple murder-suicide in 2017. Her brother, Lionel Desmond, purchased a high-powered rifle and shot and killed his 52-year-old mother, his 31-year-old wife Shanna, and 10-year-old daughter Aaliya, before turning the gun on himself.
Cassandra said she had been waiting for nearly four years to deliver her testimony and said there were many days she had wanted to give up. She said she had been tired of fighting with the provincial and federal governments to call the inquiry and to finally have the opportunity to give her evidence on Monday felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
“It’s not easy by no means and it takes a lot to gather the strength when you are re-telling your story,” said Cassandra, following her testimony. “You have to relive the tragedy of that night and walk down memory lane, and so you can’t hide those emotions.”
All four of Desmond’s sisters took the stand last week, along with close friends and relatives, who all described Desmond as a “practical joker” and loving family man who would do anything for anyone.
But on the same note, they all testified that Afghanistan and the brutal combat mission he endured had changed Desmond.
Back in March 2020, during the first session of the Desmond Fatality Inquiry, a lot of attention and testimony was given surrounding the care Desmond received by provincial health professionals who treated and worked with him after he was medically discharged from the military in 2015.
“We’ve heard from the psychiatrists and other professionals here that treated him in the provincial system after the fact,” said Rodgers. “But now we’re going to be hearing from those within the military system, who knew everything about Corporal Desmond, who knew his background and knew what he had been through.”
Through previous testimony, the Inquiry heard how Desmond had sought help for his mental health issues, but it’s not clear how effective the treatments were or how engaged Desmond was.
In June 2016, Desmond was admitted to the St. Anne’s Hospital operational stress injury clinic in Montreal, but after three months of rehabilitation treatment, he left early and returned home to Nova Scotia with no follow-up treatment plan in place.
“This would really be the first time we’re hearing from doctors that are really in the system of the armed forces,” said Rodgers. “This is going to be some key evidence that covers a large span of his (Desmond’s) life, following the combat mission, right up until 2016 when he moved home to Nova Scotia.”
The testimony at the Desmond Fatality Inquiry resumes Tuesday in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia when psychiatrist Dr. Vinod Joshi, who had been treating Desmond while he was in the military, takes the witness stand.