Inquiry Basis

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.  

Inquiry Mandate

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.

At the conclusion of the proceedings, The Honourable Warren K. Zimmer, the presiding Provincial Court Judge for the Inquiry, will file a written report with the Provincial Court containing his findings and recommendations. His report will not contain any findings of legal responsibility. A copy of the report will be provided to the Minister of Justice.

Inquiry Schedule

On May 21, 2019, the Desmond Fatality Inquiry began in Guysborough County with opening remarks by Judge Warren 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., and resumed hearing evidence on Feb. 16, 2021. On April 22, 2021, the proceedings adjourned again and were delayed due to the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Inquiry will resume evidentiary hearings at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. The proceedings are expected to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, with Thursday, Sept. 16, also set aside, if required.

Please note that due to physical distancing requirements, in-person access to the hearing room will be restricted. Anyone not essential to the proceedings must get advance permission from Judge Zimmer to attend in person. Media will be permitted to attend the proceedings in person, if there is space available in the hearing room. Anyone attending in person will be required to wear a disposable medical mask

Further updates can be located on the Media Page of this website.

Participation in the Inquiry

The Fatality Investigations Act provides that a Crown attorney or counsel for the Minister shall appear at a fatality inquiry and may examine and cross-examine witnesses and present arguments and submissions.

The Act also sets out that participants include a personal representative of the deceased and any person who applies to the Judge before or during the inquiry and is declared by the Judge to be an interested person.

If you are interested in participating in the Inquiry proceedings, you must complete and submit an application form.

Applications can be submitted to the Antigonish Justice Centre, 11 James St., Antigonish, NS , faxed to 902-863-7479 or by e-mail at

Apply to participate