Inquiry into former soldier who killed family looking into firearms licensing
Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in a photo from the Facebook page of Shanna Desmond. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO - Facebook)
GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. -- Lionel Desmond's licence to buy and possess guns was placed under review by firearms officials in New Brunswick in 2014 and again 2015, an inquiry into the former soldier's death heard Wednesday.
But the mentally ill Afghanistan veteran -- who shot and killed three members of his family and himself in Nova Scotia on Jan. 3, 2017 -- managed to get his permit reinstated despite repeated run-ins with police.
Desmond's ability to legally buy a rifle on the day he killed his wife, mother, 10-year-old daughter and himself is at the centre of a provincial fatality inquiry that heard its 13th day of testimony on Wednesday.
The corporal with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was diagnosed in 2011 with major depression, severe post-traumatic stress disorder and a probable traumatic brain injury after serving in Afghanistan in 2007.
Before he was medically released from the military in 2015, Desmond had applied to renew his firearms licence. But the process was subject to a review in June 2014, when the Provincial Firearms Office in New Brunswick discovered Desmond had failed to disclose his PTSD diagnosis.
Lysa Rossignol, who at the time was operations manager for the office, testified that Desmond's doctor told a firearms officer he could see no reason why Desmond should be prevented from getting a licence renewal.
"He has no problem with Mr. Desmond possessing firearms," Rossignol said, reading from an investigation report prepared in December 2014.
"He's been treating him for approximately four-and-a-half years and has him medicated. He advises that Mr. Desmond has no psychosis and has never mentioned self harm or any violent ideation."
Inquiry counsel Allen Murray asked Rossignol if the firearms officer asked for any medical files.
Rossignol said he did not.
"That was the protocol that was in place," she testified. "He did what he was supposed to do."
Less than a year later, on Nov. 27, 2015, police were dispatched to Desmond's home in Oromocto, N.B., after his wife Shanna told police she had received texts indicating he was preparing to kill himself using a rifle he kept locked in his garage.
Desmond was arrested under the province's Mental Health Act, his weapons were confiscated by the RCMP and his firearms licence was again subject to a review -- although that process did not kick in until a month later.
"It was the same approach as in 2014," said Rossignol.
A medical assessment form was sent to another doctor in January 2016, and he reported much the same thing as the first doctor.
"Non-suicidal and stable," Rossignol said as she read comments from Dr. Paul Smith that were included in the second investigation report. "No concerns for firearms usage with appropriate licence."
Rossignol said she was in the process of reviewing the file when she noticed Desmond's licence had been flagged on the Canadian Firearms Information System following an incident involving police in Nova Scotia on Nov. 18, 2015.
However, Rossignol said it took four months for her to determine what happened on that date because the firearms office in Nova Scotia had trouble getting disclosure from the RCMP.
Rossignol said documents from the RCMP detachment in Canso, N.S., revealed police had been dispatched to check on Desmond's mental health after his aunt complained he was in a manic state and suffering from paranoia, depression and PTSD.
However, the investigating officer reported that Desmond was "calm and lucid."
"Desmond displayed no signs of being a danger to himself or others," Murray said, reading from the officer's occurrence report. "He advised that he would call police if he felt he was deteriorating."
The inquiry was told there were two other RCMP calls involving Desmond in Nova Scotia -- on Nov. 25, 2016 and on Nov. 28, 2016. But neither of those mental health calls were flagged in the database used by provincial firearms officers.
On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a Soviet-era SKS 7.62 carbine, which he used later that night to kill his 31-year-old wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his 52-year-old mother Brenda inside the family's home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.
-- By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.