Time for Lionel Desmond's Canada-150 Inquiry

20 June 2017

20 Jun 2017

Lionel Desmond was Canadian solider from Upper Big Tracadie, Nova Scotia who killed his daughter, his wife and his mother at their family home before taking his own life early this year. It is a real Canadian tragedy – the question is, could it have been avoided?

When Corporal Lionel Desmond enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, he agreed to put his life on the line for Canada, his country. In exchange, Canada agreed to look after him. It was a mutually-agreed trust relationship. It is both a written and unwritten covenant – a sacred commitment between Canada and its warriors. Lionel Desmond's oath of allegiance was framed and hung in his grandmother's home. These are not just words but a bond created between Canada and Lionel.

Lionel served his country proudly, and for that, Canada is grateful – but the national commitment does not end as one's military service wraps up.

As a member of the storied 2 Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment based at Camp Gagetown in New Brunswick, Desmond deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. This wartime service had a deep impact on him.

He returned home to family and community mentally wounded. He had a concussion-type injury and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, which he was treated for before being released from the Army. He returned to his home province of Nova Scotia and faced challenges putting his life back together. Ultimately, he lost that battle, and his family fell victim.

There has been no inquiry or coroner's inquest into his death. We are told it is a complex web of competing jurisdictions. The Department National Defence, Veterans Affairs, Veteran's Ombudsman, Defence Ombudsman, the Auditor General of Canada, RCMP, Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board, Employment and Social Development Canada, the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia Coroners Office all have possible jurisdiction. It is a complex and multi-dimensional problem. Canada needs to look critically at this incident and learn from it

Desmond had a trust relationship with Canada. He proudly wore the flag on his uniform. Canada must now act – to give credence to this trust relationship – for the future of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh was once a warrior himself. He understands this relationship deeply. The Minister can stand up and order an inquiry under Section 45 the National Defense Act. He can also have the Coroner of Nova Scotia participate in a creative  fashion to obtain all the facts. That is the Army way – out of the box thinking.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs also needs to take an active role. I think you will find that Canadians expect that VAC tracks all former soldiers, sailors and airmen/women, to ensure their health and wellness are on par with the sacrifices they were prepared to make for the protection of Canadians.

Administrative and jurisdictional details can be easily worked out if there is the will. The Department of National Defence can order and fund an inquest or public inquiry. This is the leadership Desmond saw daily on the dusty battlefields of Afghanistan. He expected the same when he returned to Canada. Canada has to right this wrong.

An inquiry is needed to clear the area and look at the issue of PTSD. It is not a new medical condition, it has effected generations of warriors. This would be a fitting Canada 150 tribute to a fine Canadian, Lionel Desmond.  

We saw the comments at the release of the recent Defence Policy to care for veterans. These words now require action. Our Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh can do the right thing and have a truth to power inquiry. Canada's warriors and their families – past, present and future – have earned this right. It has to be a two-way relationship.

Lionel cried out for help in Nova Scotia. He did not get the medical assistance he deserved. He and his family paid the ultimate price for Canada. Canada in its 150th year can step up and get this right.

– Joe Spears is a Nova Scotian residing in BC, a former ad hoc Federal prosecutor, and a former first responder with a long standing interest in PTSD