Nova Scotia firearms officer testifies at Lionel Desmond inquiry

The chief firearms office of Nova Scotia does not have the power to get a second medical opinion after reinstating a gun licence, unless the applicant gets flagged by police, a doctor or someone from the community.

The was the information provided to the Lionel Desmond fatality inquiry on Monday.

The first session of the inquiry wrapped up in Guysborough, N.S., Monday with chief firearms officer John Parkin’s testimony. 

He spoke to one of the key mandates of the inquiry — learning more about how the Afghanistan veteran with complex post-traumatic stress disorder passed a review to get his firearms licence back in New Brunswick.

Desmond would use that licence on Jan. 3, 2017, to buy a gun to kill his wife, mother and daughter that evening. 

He then turned the semi-automatic rifle on himself. 

Framed photos of Shanna and 10-year-old Aaliyah Desmond are displayed in the Borden family home, where they were killed on Jan. 3, 2017. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

When asked by Judge Warren Zimmer why he couldn’t ask for a medical review a year or two after reinstating a licence for someone like Desmond, Parkin said he didn’t believe he had the legal authority to do so. 

His answer echoed that of his New Brunswick counterpart Lysa Rossignol. Rossignol approved the review that gave Desmond back his licence in April 2016 after it was put under review following a suicide attempt in November 2015. 

Rossignol reinstated the veteran’s licence after getting a medical note from Dr. Paul Smith that said his patient seemed stable. 

Firearms recommendations

During Rossignol’s testimony, Zimmer questioned her about why the firearms office had to wait until something happened in order to investigate. He hinted at a recommendation then, one that he revisited Monday, about the possibility of taking a more proactive approach that would allow for an interim check.

Zimmer told Parkin that he should expect he might get called back to give advice about whether the judge’s recommendations could be adopted by the firearms office.

It’s unlikely that report with its recommendations will come out before the end of the year. 

The inquiry is expected to sit for three more sessions.

It will review more evidence about domestic violence, Desmond’s health care within the military and learn about what, if any, support Veterans Affairs offers to family members welcoming home a former soldier who may have been profoundly affected by a combat zone. 

Lionel Desmond shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in the Panjwai district in Afghanistan. (Trev Bungay/Facebook/The Canadian Press)

Desmond returned from Afghanistan in August 2007, a “changed man,” according to both his family and the family of his wife, Shanna. His moods shifted rapidly and his relationship with his wife became marked by conflict, according to testimony. 

In 2011, a military psychiatrist diagnosed him with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Other clinicians have also suggested he might have also suffered from post-concussion syndrome.

Desmond received treatment both within the military and through Veterans Affairs until returning home to Nova Scotia in August 2016. There, he sought help in the provincial system. 

Zimmer has noted the difficulties Desmond’s various clinicians had in obtaining his military health records, something that he and other lawyers have suggested will be addressed in the final recommendations. 

The next session of the inquiry is tentatively scheduled for May.

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