On January 3, 2017, the bodies of Lionel Desmond, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, his wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah, and Mr. Desmond’s mother Brenda, were found in a home in Upper Big Tracadie, Guysborough County. It is believed that Mr. Desmond took the lives of his family members, before he took his own life.
Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Matt Bowes, reviewed the circumstances of the deaths and recommended to the Minister of Justice that an inquiry be held under the province’s Fatality Investigations Act.
A recommendation under Sec. 26 of the Act requires the Minister to order that an inquiry be held. With that order, the Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia appoints a Judge to conduct the inquiry and make recommendations on any issues identified in the order of the Minister.
The Honourable Warren K. Zimmer was appointed the Presiding Judge for the Desmond Fatality Inquiry on July 12, 2018.
The Inquiry’s mandate is to determine the circumstances under which these deaths occurred, as well as some specific issues, including, but not limited to whether Lionel Desmond and his family had access to the appropriate mental health and domestic violence intervention services leading up to their deaths. Read the complete Ministerial Order.
On May 21, 2019, the Desmond Fatality Inquiry began in Guysborough County with opening remarks by Judge Zimmer, followed by Applications to Participate at the fatality inquiry, pursuant to Section 36 of the Fatality Investigations Act. The evidentiary hearings began on Jan. 27, 2020, and continued until March 2, 2020.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proceedings were adjourned until the judge was confident they could continue safely and in compliance with public health directives. With that in mind, the venue for the proceedings moved from Guysborough County to the courthouse at 15 Kennedy St., Port Hawkesbury, N.S.
Closing submissions from counsel and the parties took place in April 2022. The Inquiry proceedings are now closed, subject to a decision by Judge Zimmer to reopen the Inquiry to clarify existing evidence or to put additional evidence on the record.
Final Report and Recommendations
As per the Fatality Investigations Act, Judge Zimmer will file a written report with the Provincial Court containing his findings and recommendations. His report will not contain any findings of legal responsibility.
Work on the final report is continuing. Updates will be provided when Judge Zimmer’s findings and recommendations are ready to be filed with the Provincial Court. A copy of the final report will also be provided to the Minister of Justice and made available to the public on the Inquiry website.