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N.S. judge to preside over inquiry into deaths of Lionel Desmond, family
Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in a photo from the Facebook page of Shanna Desmond. (HO-Facebook/The Canadian Press)
HALIFAX -- A provincial court judge in Nova Scotia has been appointed to preside over the fatality inquiry into the deaths of Afghanistan war veteran Lionel Desmond and his family.
The Nova Scotia judiciary issued a statement Thursday saying Warren K. Zimmer was appointed to the post by Judge Pamela Williams, chief judge of the provincial court.
The provincial government promised an inquiry last December, almost a year after Desmond fatally shot himself and his mother, wife and 10-year-old daughter in rural home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.
The 33-year-old soldier had been diagnosed with PTSD after two harrowing tours in Afghanistan in 2007.
When the inquiry's terms of reference were released in May, provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey said the Nova Scotia government hoped to learn the circumstances of the deaths and how they could be prevented in the future.
Among other things, the inquiry will examine whether Desmond had access to appropriate mental health services, and whether his family had access to domestic violence intervention services.
Zimmer will also consider whether health care and social services providers who interacted with Desmond were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries or domestic violence, and also whether Desmond should have been able to keep or obtain a licence enabling him to purchase a firearm.
In addition, the final report is to consider if there were any restrictions in the flow of Veteran Affairs or Defence Department records to provincial health personnel.
The rare probe will be the first in the province in over a decade.
Zimmer was called to the Nova Scotia bar in 1978. He worked as a Crown prosecutor until 1983 when he entered private practice, specializing in criminal law. He was appointed to the bench in 2011.
As well, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service has appointed Allen Murray as the inquiry's prosecutor.
Murray, the chief Crown attorney in Antigonish, spent four years as a staff lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid in Antigonish before joining the prosecution service in 2001.
The start date for the inquiry has not been announced, but a spokeswoman for the judiciary confirmed hearings will start later this year. They will be held in Guysborough in eastern Nova Scotia, near the community where the deaths occurred.
The push for an inquiry began with family members, after they expressed dissatisfaction with internal reviews.
They have long said the veteran did not get the help he needed from Defence Department or Veterans Affairs.
Some of them have also said they are anxious to learn what Desmond experienced overseas and how his increasingly debilitating mental illnesses were treated.
However, a leading expert on public inquiries has said it remains uncertain whether the inquiry will be able to compel federal officials to testify at the hearings.
Ed Ratushny, a University of Ottawa law professor, has said the inquiry may be unable to examine why Afghan veterans have been taking their own lives and, on rare occasions, the lives of others.
More than 130 serving military personnel have taken their own lives since 2010, according to the Defence Department. Officials have not been able to determine the number of suicides among veterans, but previous studies have suggested former service members are more at risk than those still in uniform.