Lionel Desmond inquiry: letter from former soldier describes his mental challenges

·2 min read

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — An inquiry investigating why a former Canadian soldier killed his family and himself in 2017 has heard excerpts from a letter he wrote in 2015 describing in detail his challenges with mental illness.

The letter by Lionel Desmond was read aloud in the hearing room today by his younger sister Cassandra, who helped lead a campaign to establish the provincial inquiry.

At the time the letter was written, the Afghanistan war veteran had just been medically released from the military, having been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011.

On July 25, 2015, Desmond submitted a handwritten letter seeking disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada, saying a rehabilitation program he took part in before leaving the military was of no use.

Desmond describes being confused, angry and stressed about the lack of support, and he complains that the military is "making soldiers worse" and contributing to higher suicide rates.

As well, Desmond provided accounts of three separate head injuries he suffered while in military training, while serving in Afghanistan in 2007 and after jumping out of a plane in 2008.

On Jan. 3, 2017, he bought a rifle and shot his 31-year-old wife Shanna, their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda before killing himself in their modest home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

The fatality inquiry, which resumed Tuesday after an 11-month hiatus, is examining whether Desmond had access to mental health and domestic violence services, and whether he should have been able to buy a rifle the day of the killings.

The inquiry is also investigating whether the health-care and social-services providers he dealt with were trained to recognize occupational stress injuries or domestic violence.

During hearings in early 2020, the inquiry heard that Desmond received no therapeutic treatment in the four months before the fatal shootings.

After hearing 17 days of testimony, the inquiry was suspended in March soon after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.

The Canadian Press