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N.S. family says they’re stuck in home where they lost loved ones in 2017 murder-suicide

WARNING: This story contains details of suicide/violence.

The family of the wife of military veteran Lionel Desmond is calling on the federal or Nova Scotia governments to relieve them of the home where the horrific murder-suicide took place.

Desmond killed his wife Shanna, his daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda in a family home in Guysborough County in January 2017. Desmond, who suffered from acute PTSD and had been struggling to get treatment, then turned the gun on himself.

Last month, the judge presiding over a fatality inquiry into the tragedy released his final report. It contained 25 recommendations that focused on trying to prevent circumstances like the ones that led to the killings.

What the inquiry didn’t address — because it was outside its mandate — was the family home where the killings took place.

Members of the Borden family have been stuck in the home — the scene of the violent tragedy — for seven years. The stigma surrounding the events of that night would make the house difficult, if not impossible, to sell.

“It’s always been fairly simple, the family should be relocated out of that home,” Sheldon Borden said last month. He’s Shanna Desmond’s brother and he complained the fatality inquiry failed to address the immediate needs of the family.

A tall Black man in a suit with his arms around a smaller older woman wearing a blue shirt and a girl making a peace sign. All are smiling and wearing sunglasses.
Lionel Desmond is shown in this undated family photo, with his mother, Brenda, left, and daughter, Aaliyah, right. (Submitted by Cassandra Desmond)

“Not too many people have half a million dollars to just up and leave their house,” Borden said. “So, to do what’s right is, if that tragedy happened, which we know it did, the first way to begin to help the families heal is to help the family with relocating.”

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns said following a cabinet meeting last week that he understands where the families are coming from.

“I certainly sympathize, on a personal level, with Desmond and Borden families,” Johns said. “I mean, Corporal Desmond’s daughter would have been the same age as my daughter is right now, graduating high school.”

But Johns said the province is waiting for the federal government to take the lead on this issue.

Immediately following the release of the fatality inquiry report, Veterans Affairs Minister Ginette Pettipas Taylor said she would be reaching out to the families.

Contacted on Feb. 8, eight days after the report was released, a spokesperson for Pettipas Taylor’s department issued a statement in response to a query from CBC News.

“The Government of Canada supported the inquiry by providing all relevant information,” the statement read in part.

It concluded: “Veterans Affairs Canada will closely review the report and its findings and in the following weeks we will have more to say.”

A spokesperson for the department said they are unable to say anything more because of privacy concerns.

Rubin (Rocky) Coward is a community activist and a friend of the Borden family. He said there are precedents for dealing with such a situation. He pointed out that following the murders at a McDonald’s restaurant in Sydney River, N.S., in 1992, the building was torn down.

Coward also said that following the murders in Portapique, N.S., in April 2020, the province took ownership of the properties owned by the gunman responsible. A government spokesperson said the province bought the property to ensure no one else would develop it.

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