Minister says scheduling snafus stalling Desmond inquiry, but lawyer isn't so sure

Michael MacDonald
·3 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says scheduling snafus are getting in the way of restarting a high-profile inquiry investigating why former soldier Lionel Desmond killed his family and himself in January 2017.

But Adam Rodgers, a lawyer who represents one of Desmond's sisters, said Thursday that scheduling is not the problem.

"My understanding in speaking with inquiry counsel was that those (scheduling) arrangements with other judges had all be made, and the space was available for the dates in November and December," Rodgers said in an interview.

"If the minister is saying those discussions need to take place and that's the cause of the delay, I don't think that's accurate."

On Wednesday, Rodgers and fellow inquiry lawyer Tara Miller said the provincial government was to blame for delays that will make it impossible for the inquiry to resume until early next year. The hearings, which were being held inside a small municipal building in Guysborough, N.S., have been on hold since March 2.

Miller, who represents another one of Desmond's sisters, said Wednesday the judge leading the inquiry had indicated as early as July that the hearings should move to Port Hawkesbury, where there is more room to accommodate physical distancing protocols.

On Thursday, Furey suggested the Justice Department's court services division was still working out the details about a possible move, and he said the inquiry's commissioner, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, was still talking about scheduling with other judges.

"If it is in fact the Port Hawkesbury facility is what they choose, these would be some of the factors that are impacting the timeline," Furey said after a cabinet meeting in Halifax. "We recognize it's a difficult time for the Desmond family and the community."

When asked about the lawyers' assertions that the Justice Department was responsible for the latest delay, he said, "I can't speak for what those individuals have said."

Rodgers said the prolonged delay is hurting his client and the rest of the Desmond family. "We're talking about trauma here," he said. "When it's rescheduled, that just means an extra traumatization. It has a major impact on the families."

As well, Rodgers said the work of the inquiry is important to members of the military and their families. "We're looking to make significant improvements to the way military personnel are treated and how their families are treated," he said.

"And the longer it goes without getting to the point where we can make recommendations, the worse people are going to be in the meantime."

On Jan. 3, 2021, four years will have passed since Desmond, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, used a semi-automatic rifle to fatally shoot his 31-year-old wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother, Brenda Desmond, 52.

The provincial fatality inquiry was first announced in December 2017 after Desmond's twin sisters, Chantel and Cassandra, raised questions about their brother's inability to get adequate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after he was released from the army in 2015.

The inquiry started hearings in January of this year, but the proceedings were shelved in March after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Since then, plans to have the inquiry resume its work in May, September and November have been scuttled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press