Psychiatrist questioned at fatality inquiry about Lionel Desmond’s release from hospital

The psychiatrist assigned to Lionel Desmond when he turned up at an emergency room in distress is being questioned today at a fatality inquiry about why the veteran was released from hospital a day before he killed himself and three members of his family.

Dr. Faisel Rahman saw Desmond on Jan. 1, 2017, at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S. He had been called for a consultation by an emergency room doctor who had been practising for only six months and had little experience treating former military members.

Desmond’s chart reported that he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), post-concussion syndrome and was “having a bad day,” the inquiry heard Monday. His wife, Shanna, had asked him to the leave her family home the night before after he’d spent hours yelling and breaking furniture. 

Rahman’s testimony is expected to focus on why Desmond wasn’t admitted to the psychiatric ward.

Two accounts have emerged throughout the inquiry, with Desmond having told family that the ward was full, and staff at St. Martha’s saying the veteran asked not to be put in the psychiatric ward because his wife worked there.

The day after his release from hospital, Desmond killed his wife, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his mother, Brenda, at a home in Upper Big Tracadie, a small community in eastern Nova Scotia. He then shot himself.

The CBC’s Laura Fraser is liveblogging from the fatality inquiry in Guysborough, N.S.

Lionel Desmond came back from Afghanistan in 2007 a changed person, his family says. (Trev Bungay/Facebook/The Canadian Press)

The inquiry’s mandate includes learning more about Desmond’s release and whether the doctors who treated him were trained to understand the symptoms and effects of PTSD. 

The Afghan War veteran had been diagnosed by a Department of National Defence psychiatrist in 2011. He received treatment while in the military in New Brunswick and, later, in Quebec.

He sought help in Nova Scotia as well, but previous witnesses have questioned whether his civilian doctors could access his military records to understand the full scope of Desmond’s illness. 


Doctors at St. Martha’s assessed that Desmond was at no risk of hurting himself or anyone else, according to how he answered questions about thoughts of suicide or homicide. 

But a day after his release, he went and purchased a rifle, a hunting knife and ammunition. He donned full camouflage, parked his truck on a remote logging road behind his wife’s family home and crept up to the mobile home in stealth mode. 

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

He slashed his wife’s tires and then went inside the house, where he killed his family and then himself.

The purpose of the inquiry is to examine whether changes to public policy — in health-care and supports for veterans and their families — can prevent similar deaths. It is, however, a provincial inquiry and doesn’t have the jurisdiction to recommend changes to key federal departments, like National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

Lionel Desmond’s mother, Brenda, worked in the construction industry. She was among the four found dead at the home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. (Facebook)

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