Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Murder-Suicides: 'We Can't Ignore the Role of Family Violence Here'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Murder-Suicides: 'We Can't Ignore the Role of Family Violence Here'

Article excerpt

N.S. tragedy: 'Can't ignore family violence'


HALIFAX - A week after a former soldier suffering from PTSD killed his wife, daughter and mother before killing himself, a difficult and complex debate has emerged in Nova Scotia about the role of domestic violence in the tragedy.

RCMP have confirmed Lionel Desmond shot his wife Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda before turning the gun on himself in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

The four bodies were discovered in the family home last Tuesday, and separate funerals are planned for this week in nearby Tracadie, with Lionel and Brenda Desmond's on Wednesday and Shanna and Aaliyah Desmond's on Thursday.

Family members say Lionel Desmond, 33, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a tour in Afghanistan in 2007, and had received treatment from the military. But relatives have also suggested the former infantryman did not get the help he needed when he returned to Nova Scotia 18 months ago, despite his family's best efforts to seek medical care.

They and others have said the persistence of the debilitating mental illness -- and the lack of treatment -- were the main reasons for Lionel Desmond's terrible actions.

But domestic violence has emerged as a parallel narrative in the public discussion over the Desmond deaths, with some saying there are other lessons to be learned.

Ardath Whynacht, a sociology professor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, said people naturally seek simple explanations for horrific things, but it is a mistake to attribute the crime specifically to PTSD.

There is nothing in the medical literature to suggest post-traumatic stress disorder leads to violence, she said.

"This case is an anomaly if we look at it through the lens of PTSD. But it's not an anomaly when we look at the trends in intimate partner violence ... A woman is killed by intimate partner once every six days in Canada."

Whynacht said the focus on PTSD ignores the fact that those with a diagnosed mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators.

"As a community, we have to ask the question: Why didn't he just take his own life? Where in his life did he learn that it was up to him to take the lives of the three women he was most close to? That's not a question that we'll be able to answer by looking at PTSD ... We can't ignore the role of family violence here."

Rev. Elaine Walcott, a relative of the Desmonds and a spiritual adviser, is from a neighbouring village that is, like Upper Big Tracadie, largely African-Nova Scotian. She said shifting the blame to domestic violence will only succeed in perpetuating stereotypical images and pitting members of the black community against each other.

"It's a perspective that is extremely damaging," said Walcott. …

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