Shanna Desmond's family hopes for help to move from home where murder-suicide took place

Thelma Borden tries her best to keep going day to day, but it's a constant struggle. She's haunted by memories and images she can't escape, because her family home is also the scene of her family tragedy. 

Borden's daughter, Shanna, and 10-year-old granddaughter, Aaliyah, were killed in her home in Nova Scotia on Jan. 3, 2017, shot by her son-in-law, Lionel Desmond. He also shot his own mother, Brenda, before turning the gun on himself.

A former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who had done two tours in Afghanistan, Desmond's family said he had been struggling with PTSD and had been trying unsuccessfully to get help.

"I always say a prayer before I start cooking because in my mind I'm wondering where they were," said Borden, seated in the living room of her home in Upper Big Tracadie. "If I'm in this room, I'm wondering what part of the room was my granddaughter lying [in]. I know she was left in this room."

Thelma Borden and her husband, Ricky, still live in the home. The Bordens would like to relocate, but say they can't afford it. 

They're hoping their request for government assistance becomes part of the fatality inquiry that was set to start Monday, but has now been adjourned until the new year.  

At the inquiry, which the CBC's Laura Fraser was live blogging Monday, the Bordens asked for the adjournment because they parted ways with their lawyer. Their new lawyer told the inquiry he needed more time to prepare. 

Judge Warren Zimmer granted a request for adjournment. The inquiry is now set to continue Jan. 27. 

The inquiry's mandate

The inquiry's mandate is to determine the circumstances surrounding the four deaths.

It will examine whether Lionel Desmond had access to appropriate mental health services, whether he should have been able to buy a gun and whether his health-care providers were trained to recognize occupational stress and domestic violence.

The inquiry was recommended by Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner after a review of the deaths.

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Sheldon Borden, Lionel Desmond's brother-in-law, who is also a Canadian Forces member, intends to raise the relocation issue at the inquiry. The family believes the Department of National Defence should help.

"You cannot begin the healing process if you're trapped in the same environment which destroyed you," he said. "You'll never become whole again." 

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Financial assistance to relocate

Borden said he has already requested help from the Prime Minister's Office, the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, as well as individual politicians. 

He received a response from the PMO, which expressed condolences, but stated the matter "falls more directly under the purview of the Minister of National Defence" and had been forwarded accordingly.

Borden said he has not yet received a response from the minister.

The inquiry is expected to sit Monday to Thursday for three weeks, after which Judge Warren Zimmer, of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court, will release a report containing findings and recommendations.

As this is a fatality inquiry, and not a public inquiry, his report won't assign any legal responsibility.

"I think it needs to be a public inquiry because I think we need to be able to hold somebody accountable for this significant tragedy," said Rubin Coward, a former military member and advocate working with the family. 

He also hopes to participate in the inquiry to raise the broader issue of racism in the military.

The family claims Desmond experienced racism during his service, an issue they believe contributed to his illness.

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Thelma and Sheldon Borden only speak lovingly of Lionel Desmond. They describe him as a caring, loving and humble person who returned from Afghanistan a different person — an angry man with a "short fuse" who struggled with a "strong sickness."

"Trauma changes you," said Sheldon Borden. It changes personalities."

The family hopes the inquiry will help determine what went wrong and create change that will help other veterans get the support they need.   

"I hope that they can try to find a way that this never happens to anybody else, that they help these young people if they're in the army," said Thelma Borden.

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Her son agrees, saying he hopes it results in "systemic, institutional" change.  

"To see that would be a blessing, because I wouldn't want to see it happen to anybody else whatsoever," said Sheldon Borden. 

According to a court decision dated June 20, inquiry participants include: 

  • Richard and Thelma Borden, Shanna Desmond's parents. 
  • Sheldon Borden, Shanna Desmond's brother.
  • Chantel Desmond, Lionel Desmond's sister and Brenda Desmond's daughter. 
  • Cassandra Desmond, Lionel Desmond's sister and Brenda Desmond's daughter. 
  • The attorney general of Canada. 
  • The attorney general of Nova Scotia. 
  • Nova Scotia Health Authority. 
  • Dr. Ian Slayter, a psychiatrist who provided mental health services to Lionel Desmond. 
  • Dr. Faisal Rahman, who saw Lionel Desmond at St. Martha's Regional Hospital the day before the killings. 
  • Sgt. (Ret'd) David MacLeod.
  • Heather MacPherson, a daughter of a veteran who will provide information about related circumstances concerning her father's military service.

Under the province's Fatality Investigations Act, anyone can make an application to participate at any stage of the proceedings.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces said it will review the inquiry's findings and consider any recommendations relevant to its operations. Veterans Affairs Canada will also review the report when it is released.

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