Fatality Inquiry

Desmond family disappointed in adjournment

Judge approves request from Borden family lawyer

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – The wait for answers around the tragic deaths of four members of the Desmond family in Upper Big Tracadie almost three years ago will last a little longer.

Desmond family members expressed disappointment and frustration after the Desmond Fatality Inquiry was adjourned on the first day evidence was to be heard. Inquiry Judge Warren Zimmer adjourned proceedings Monday morning, Nov. 18, following a request from lawyer Tom MacDonald on behalf of the family of the late Shanna Desmond.

Sessions will resume in Guysborough on Jan. 27, 2020, and continue until March 5, 2020, before they recess.

Council chambers at the Guysborough Municipal Building were filled with inquiry officials, lawyers and family members for the expected start of hearings Monday. Instead, the morning began with a discussion of the request. MacDonald had been retained as the new lawyer for the Borden family last Friday afternoon, Nov. 15, replacing their original lawyer for the inquiry. MacDonald requested the adjournment so he could review the almost 120,000 pages of evidence and prepare for the hearings.

"It's really upsetting (because) there has been more than enough time on the timelines for all of us to be prepared to start today," Cassandra Desmond, sister of the late Lionel Desmond, said to media after the adjournment. She said she agrees, however, that the Borden family has the right to full participation and understands Judge Zimmer's decision to grant the extra time.

"And I guess that's more time for us to become prepared as well," she said.

Still, she noted that the long wait to get answers is hard on relatives of the deceased and veterans still suffering.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Lionel Desmond, a veteran who suffered PTSD following two tours in Afghanistan, shot his wife Shanna, mother Brenda and 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah at the family's home in Upper Big Tracadie, then shot himself.

Getting answers would help the family's healing process, as well as that of veterans who still suffer, said Desmond. "It is very upsetting and disappointing that we are going to have to wait another 60 days."

She said she hoped the additional time might lead to more information being uncovered to help answer the many questions that remain about the tragedy.

Lawyers representing the various parties with standing at the inquiry were given an opportunity Monday to speak to the adjournment request. While most did not object, the two lawyers representing members of the Desmond family expressed concern about a delay.

After a short break, Judge Zimmer announced his decision to grant the adjournment request and shared his rationale.

Saying he believed that an adjournment would not favour one family over the other in the proceedings, he noted he was concerned about how denying an adjournment would affect the Borden family.

"They would be here unprepared and not engaged in the way they would like to be and have a right to be," he said.

Outside the building after Judge Zimmer delivered his decision, Sheldon Borden, Shanna Desmond's brother, spoke briefly with media about the adjournment. He said he was happy with the judge's decision and looked forward to his family -- including their parents, Thelma and Ricky Borden -- being better prepared to participate when the inquiry reconvenes in January. He declined to comment on why the family chose to change lawyers.

When asked what she hopes comes from the inquiry, Desmond said she hopes there is an end to the stigma around the mental health struggles of veterans and that help is immediately available to them when they need it.