Preparations made for start of Desmond inquiry at municipal building

Inquiry expected to start in January

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – Council chambers have been wired for live-streaming and a temporary judge’s platform has been added in preparation for the long-awaited fatality inquiry into the shooting deaths of four members of the Desmond family of Upper Big Tracadie in Jan. 2017. The inquiry is expected to begin in January.

No major renovations were made to the former satellite court room, which had been made into a proper council chamber last year, MODG CAO Barry Carroll told The Journal Monday.

Other additions to the space include tables for lawyers.

“We have integrated (the inquiry) in some ways into our operations,” Carroll said of measures to ensure MODG can continue to operate smoothly during this time.

“We know how important this inquiry is to our community and the province,” he said. The inquiry will also use some office space in the municipal building.

In its lease agreement for the inquiry, MODG has reserved Wednesdays for meetings in council chambers when necessary. That includes the regular monthly meeting of council and a monthly meeting of committee-of-the-whole, both of which require the space starting at 4 p.m. The municipality can also give notice of the need for council chambers for other meetings that day. When the municipality does not need the space on Wednesdays, the inquiry can continue to operate there.

“We also have the back-up space of the CLC now,” Carroll said. “We have a lot more municipal space now than we used too.”

The two-year lease for space at the municipal building came into effect Nov.1, 2018, although the hearings may not take that long.

The RCMP investigation following the tragic shooting determined that Afghanistan war veteran Lionel Desmond shot and killed his wife, Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his mother, Brenda, before taking his own life.

As previously reported in The Journal, Dr. Matt Bowes, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Examiner, reviewed the case and recommended an inquiry under Sec. 26 of Nova Scotia’s Fatality Investigations Act. Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice agreed and drafted terms of reference outlining the scope for the inquiry.

Those terms of reference say the inquiry will — among other things — look into the circumstances of Lionel Desmond’s release from St. Martha’s Hospital on Jan. 2, 2017 — the day before the shootings. It will also consider whether he had access to appropriate mental health services, including treatment for Occupational Stress Injuries, and whether he and his family had access to appropriate domestic violence intervention services.

The inquiry will also look at whether Lionel Desmond should have been able to retain, or obtain a licence enabling him to obtain or purchase a firearm.

The Honourable Warren K. Zimmer, a judge of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia, will preside over the fatality inquiry.

The Justice department issued a Request for Proposals on Dec. 5 for website maintenance and livestreaming services, Jennifer Stairs, communications director at the N.S. Judiciary told The Journal via email Tuesday. “In the interim, a basic website is being developed to support the process for interested parties to apply to participate. That site is expected to be live later this month, and the hearings to determine who will participate in the Inquiry will be scheduled early in 2019, once we have a sense of the number of applicants.”

In terms of the wait for the inquiry to proceed — two years after the tragedy — Stairs said, “We understand this is an extensive and complex process. However, it is important that we take the time to plan and prepare now, to ensure the Inquiry proceeds as smoothly as possible once it starts hearing evidence.”