PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A doctor who saw Lionel Desmond two months after he returned to Nova Scotia in 2016 told an inquiry Wednesday the former soldier was looking for help getting followup psychiatric treatment.
Desmond's medical care is at the centre of the inquiry, which is trying to determine why the Afghanistan war veteran fatally shot his wife, daughter and mother inside their home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., on Jan. 3, 2017.
Dr. Luke Harnish told the fatality inquiry that he was filling in as a physician at the Guysborough Memorial Hospital on Oct. 13, 2016 when he saw Desmond and his wife, Shanna Desmond. Harnish said it was the first and only time he saw Desmond.
He said the "overall feel" of the appointment was to try to figure out how to help Desmond, who had moved back to the Guysborough area after 11 years away.
"He didn't know what the plan was and didn't know where else to turn, I think, at that point, so he came in to see if we could help him," Harnish said.
He said there was no information about Desmond on the clinic's medical chart other than a mention of a previous visit to the facility's emergency department to deal with a bee sting.
Harnish said Desmond told him he had received treatment from the military for depression, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. He said Desmond brought a grocery bag to the appointment that contained the medications he had been taking.
He said Desmond told him that he had received targeted counselling and therapy at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal to help him deal with remembering his nightmares.
But Harnish told inquiry counsel Shane Russell that neither Desmond nor his wife mentioned his previous treatment at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic for veterans in New Brunswick or the fact he had a case manager at Veterans Affairs Canada.
He said Desmond told him that he believed medical officials were supposed to establish a followup plan for him in Nova Scotia but that he had received no information to that point in time.
"I got the impression that he was sort of in a limbo period," Harnish told the inquiry.
The doctor said he ended up searching the internet with Desmond and his wife to get contact information for Ste. Anne's in order to attempt to get his medical records. He said he left that information with his clinic's front desk and instructed it to follow up with the Montreal hospital.
Harnish was asked whether he had any idea that there had been discussions about Desmond's case between the Montreal hospital, Veterans Affairs and operational stress injury clinics in New Brunswick and Halifax.
"No, it would have been nice to know that at the time," he replied.
Earlier Wednesday, another physician testified that he saw Desmond just weeks before the killings and that he did not appear to be potentially suicidal or homicidal.
Dr. Ali Khakpour said he treated Desmond for a cut finger at the hospital in Guysborough on Dec. 13, 2016 and saw him again on Dec. 20 when he refilled a prescription for a medication because Desmond was having trouble sleeping.
Khakpour, who had experience dealing with military PTSD cases in his native Iran, said Desmond appeared stable and he didn't think he was a danger to himself or anyone else. "He didn't have any (suicidal) thoughts, and he looked to me as somebody seeking help, (he was) positive," Khakpour said.
He told the inquiry that he was also aware that there would be a followup appointment the next day — Dec. 21 — with Dr. Ian Slayter, a psychiatrist at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S.
"Honestly if he had shown any single point of showing depression that much ... there would have been no hesitation, we would have done something different," Khakpour said. The doctor said he was "shocked" when he learned that Desmond had shot his family and then himself.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.
— By Keith Doucette in Halifax
The Canadian Press