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How Lionel Desmond kept his firearms licence

Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in this photo from Shanna Desmond’s Facebook page.
Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in this photo from Shanna Desmond’s Facebook page. - Facebook
GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. —

In November 2015, Lionel Desmond was involved in four calls to the RCMP, two of them mental health related, and still managed to hold onto his firearms licence.

The Desmond Fatality Inquiry is spending this week asking why.

On Nov. 18, 2015, a family member called the Guysborough District RCMP detachment concerned about Desmond being in a manic state.

On Nov. 27, Oromocto RCMP arrested Desmond under the mental health act, seized his hunting rifle and took him to hospital after he texted his wife, Shanna, that he intended to kill himself.

Having been released from hospital at around 2 a.m. Desmond drove the five hours to Upper Big Tracadie, where he first called police on Shanna for having hidden another rifle (in accordance with the advice of Oromocto RCMP) and then had police called on him by Shanna’s father as he yelled about the hidden rifle from a neighbouring property.

New Brunswick’s firearms office began a review of Desmond’s licence a month after the Nov. 27 incident but was not aware of the Nov. 18 incident or the two Nov. 28 incidents in Nova Scotia.

That province’s acting chief firearm’s officer, Lysa Rossignol, testified Wednesday at the Desmond Fatality inquiry, explaining the varying provincial and federal jurisdictions when it comes to guns.

When Const. Steven Richard of the Oromocto RCMP got back to the detachment after 2 a.m. on Nov. 28, he filled out an incident report on the call to Desmond’s house that night. Desmond had gone willingly and without handcuffs with Richard to the hospital emergency room where he was assessed and released by a doctor.

A scoring system that applies a numerical value to calls automatically generated a Firearms Interest to Police flag on the system due to the nature of the call and the seizure of a rifle. Known as a FIP by law enforcement agencies, the RCMP computer system immediately notified the Canadian Firearms Centre based in Miramichi.

There, federal employees checked that Desmond had a valid firearms possession and acquisition licence and referred that licence to the provincial firearms agency for review.

The review ended up on the desk of an area firearms officer.

That was the same officer who had reviewed Desmond’s licence a year earlier, after the Afghan war veteran didn't volunteer that he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder when filing his five-year licence renewal.  

That officer again sent Desmond a form to be filled out by a doctor with a list of questions including his diagnoses, whether he was a risk to himself or others, what medication he was on and other treatments.

That officer didn’t know another FIP had been generated on Desmond’s firearms licence because it was sent to the Nova Scotia firearms office. And neither the Nova Scotia nor the New Brunswick firearms office knew about the Nov. 28 incidents in Upper Big Tracadie because the way they were filed by the Guysborough District RCMP didn’t automatically generate a red flag.

After receiving the completed form from Dr. Paul Smith in Fredericton stating that Desmond wasn’t a danger to himself or others, the area firearms officer in New Brunswick approved the reinstatement of his possession and acquisition licence.

That approval landed, as all such do, on Rossignol’s desk for peer review on March 1, 2016.

She discovered the Nov. 18 wellness check after calling the Nova Scotia firearms office. After three requests to the Guysborough District RCMP, a copy of the incident report was received and ultimately Rossignol approved it anyway, based on the letter from Dr. Smith because it had been completed after both incidents.

On Jan. 3, 2017, shortly after learning that Shanna was seeking a divorce, Desmond used that possession and acquisition licence to buy a rifle in Antigonish. Within two hours he used it to kill Shanna, his daughter Aaliyah and mother Brenda before shooting himself.

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