Desmond killings: Nova Scotia premier not ruling out public inquiry

By The Canadian Press
June 22, 2017 - 11:00am

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier is calling a horrific murder-suicide involving a former Canadian soldier almost six months ago "a tragic event," but the province is still not prepared to call a public inquiry — yet.

Stephen McNeil said any steps to investigate the deaths further wouldn't be taken until family members and the province’s medical examiner are briefed on the findings of an internal health-care system review in the Lionel Desmond case.

"The family is being briefed and it is, in my view, the right place to start," he told reporters Thursday. "The family deserves the accounting first."

Nova Scotia Health Authority officials will meet with Desmond’s family next week to share the findings of the confidential review into how the province’s health system dealt with the former soldier before he killed his family and himself in January.

Desmond's sisters have said their brother told them he was turned away from a hospital when he sought help from its mental-health unit in the days before the shootings, although a hospital spokesman has denied similar claims from other family members.

McNeil didn't rule out a public inquiry Thursday, but he said the province needs to "let the process happen."

"This has been a tragic event in that community. The health authority has gone through the process and they will inform the family of their findings," he said, adding that "the decision (on whether to hold an inquiry) will be made from there."

Justice Minister Mark Furey said that while he does have the authority to call a fatality inquiry, the province’s medical examiner, Dr. Matthew Bowes, would be in a "better position" to make such a call.

"Dr. Bowes, with his expertise as the medical examiner for the province, will have an opportunity to be informed of the findings as well as have inclusions with the family," he said. "He then would be in a better position to make a decision about whether or not he chooses to call an inquiry."

Furey said "the public should be informed on these circumstances" of the murder-suicide.

Bowes told The Canadian Press this week that he's reluctant to call public inquiries if there are other means to examine the issues — even if they're behind closed doors.

He also said when he came to the province 14 years ago, senior bureaucrats told him that judicial reviews "ought to be more of a decision on the part of the minister."

Furey refused Thursday to commit to a public investigation into the deaths.

"The minister has the authority at the end of the day to call an inquiry but there are steps to be taken before we would ever come to that," he said.

"There is an opportunity here for us to put a grey lens on it and think outside the box for the best interest of the public at large."

Public inquiries are rare in Nova Scotia. The most recent judicial fatality inquiry wrapped up in late 2010 when provincial court Judge Anne Derrick presented a 460-page report on the jail cell death of Howard Hyde, a mentally ill man who died after jail guards restrained him on the floor during a psychotic episode.

Lionel Desmond, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, took his own life after shooting his 52-year-old mother Brenda, his 31-year-old wife Shanna, and their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah. Since then, friends and family members have complained he did not get the help he needed after he was medically discharged from the military in 2015.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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