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Inquiry into former soldier who killed family looking into firearms licensing

A sheriff stands at the door at the Desmond Fatality Inquiry in Guysborough, N.S. on November 18, 2019. The inquiry investigating why an Afghanistan war veteran killed his family and himself in 2017 has turned its attention to how the mentally ill former infantryman was able to legally purchase a firearm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. — An inquiry in Nova Scotia investigating why a mentally ill former soldier killed three family members and himself in early 2017 is hearing testimony today from staff at New Brunswick’s Provincial Firearms Office.

Among other things, the inquiry is trying to determine how Lionel Desmond legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle even though he was diagnosed with major depression, severe PTSD and a probable traumatic brain injury.

New Brunswick’s acting chief firearms officer, Lysa Rossignol, offered a detailed explanation about the firearms licensing process, including the use of medical assessments for those dealing with mental health issues.

The inquiry has heard that on Nov. 27, 2015, police in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia confiscated Desmond’s firearms after he was arrested in Oromocto, N.B., under the provincial Mental Health Act.

At the time, an RCMP officer determined Desmond was a threat to himself because he had sent texts to his wife suggesting he was contemplating suicide.

However, Desmond later submitted a medical assessment to New Brunswick’s chief firearms officer confirming he was not a threat to himself or others — and his licence was reinstated and his guns returned on May 13, 2016.

The inquiry has heard the assessment was produced by Dr. Paul Smith, a family physician who worked at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. Smith has yet to testify.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a Soviet-era SKS 7.62 carbine, which he used later that night to kill his 31-year-old wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his 52-year-old mother Brenda inside the family’s home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.

The Canadian Press