GUYSBOROUGH — For suggesting new but “unworkable” mental health and social supports for rural African Nova Scotians, Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) Councillor Mary Desmond is unequivocal about the Desmond Fatality Inquiry’s final report.
“I think it deserves an ‘F’,” she told The Journal in an interview last week after the Jan. 31 release of government-appointed, former provincial court Judge Paul Scovil’s findings and recommendations. “I’m not going to speak for the whole [African Nova Scotian] community, but, personally, I feel that they failed to [say] how they were going to follow up on a lot of their... recommendations... A lot of it is just unworkable... just puffing air.”
Desmond, aunt of the late Brenda Desmond – one of four family members killed in the Jan. 3, 2017, shooting tragedy in Upper Big Tracadie – was particularly critical of recommendation six: that government departments “partner with appropriate community organizations to provide more comprehensive, virtual care” to rural African Nova Scotian communities.
“We don’t even have cell phones in a lot of the African Nova Scotian community [here],” she said. “So, how are [they] going to get virtual care in here?”
She also questioned recommendation seven, which instructs provincial authorities to “take steps to recruit Black and diverse mental health providers to provide culturally informed and responsive care with an emphasis on training in psychosocial services, occupational stress, general mental health and addictions with appropriate provincial funding.”
Desmond said, “There’s nothing [like that] in here [now]... There’s no African Nova Scotian or Black psychologists or psychiatrists here. So, how am I going to [get] help from someone who looks like me? I’m not.”
Cassandra Desmond, sister of Lionel Desmond – the military veteran who shot his mother Brenda, wife Shanna and 10–year-old daughter Aliyah before turning the rifle on himself – was also skeptical about some of the recommendations for improving the circumstances of rural African Nova Scotians.
“We already know that the community is suffering,” she told The Journal in an interview. “Not many Black people, not many people within African Nova Scotian communities [here] have Internet or have computers or anything like that to connect with... virtual health services... or even to learn how to use them.”
She added: “Not to be disrespectful, but a lot of the older generation [here] don’t even know how to read and write. What makes them [the province] think that introducing [older African Nova Scotians in Guysborough County] to technology is going to help when they couldn’t even introduce them to literacy?”
Overall, she said, there’s been a lack of relevant support “for the families and communities left to heal from this tragedy” from government authorities responsible for the inquiry. “[They] need to listen to us. The Black Lives Matter movement opened up our eyes to the issues. We’ve come too far to fall back on the Nova Scotia government... If it’s about us, you need to include us.”
Mary Desmond said the irrelevance of some of the key recommendations speaks to a larger problem.
“Our society has let down the African Nova Scotian in all sectors of life for over 200 years – from education, to health, to housing. We’re still being let down and locked out, with all these barriers and disparities. And yet, we get all of these recommendations all of the time... What comes out of them?”
She added: “All the stuff they have in [this report] would be beautiful if we had the tools already in the community. But come into the African Nova Scotian community and then see.”
With files from Nancy O’Regan