Hon. Jane Cordy:
Honourable senators, the community of Upper Big Tracadie in Nova Scotia continues to grieve for the Desmond family. Their lives were taken in an unfathomable tragedy on January 3, 2017. RCMP confirmed that retired soldier Lionel Desmond shot his wife Shanna Desmond, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda Desmond before turning the gun on himself.
Shanna Desmond was only 31 and had recently completed her nursing degree at St. Francis Xavier University and was just beginning her nursing career in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. By all accounts, 10-year-old Aaliyah was a typical, happy and active girl who enjoyed horseback riding, skating and singing. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
Through the outpouring of love from family and neighbours, we heard that the Desmond family was a very close family. However, honourable senators, what was hidden from view from many of those family members and neighbours was the suffering that too many of our Armed Forces personnel carry with them when they return home from the battlefield. Lionel Desmond was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Afghanistan, and it has been reported he did receive some treatment for his PTSD.
Honourable senators, as we know, living with PTSD is often a life-long battle. We have learned from close family and friends that the family was struggling to deal with Mr. Desmond’s PTSD.
We may never know the full extent that PTSD plays in this tragedy, but many believe it was likely a major factor. The events of that horrific day have rekindled the conversation of PTSD in Canada, particularly for military personnel.
Unfortunately, in this era of the 24-hour news cycle, it is all too common for real life stories like these to fade quickly and to leave the national consciousness.
In Senator Roméo Dallaire’s final speech in this place on June 16, 2014, he spoke passionately about Canada’s international responsibilities to help broker peace in some of the world’s worst conflicts. He concluded his speech thusly:
However, our responsibilities do not end with the missions abroad. Indeed, we have related duties at home that we must carry out to the fullest extent. If Canada were to send troops and other personnel into conflict zones, such as the Central African Republic, we would have to ensure absolutely that we provide them and their families with the proper care after they return home, for you cannot return from those conflicts without being affected. This includes care not only of the physical injuries but those of the psychological variety, which have a lasting and potentially deadly impact. PTSD can be a terminal injury.
Honourable senators, it is incumbent on us as parliamentarians to ensure that the conversation does not fade away. Canadians who serve our country, protecting our rights and freedoms and our lives at home and in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, must be cared for.
Honourable senators, we owe this to our military, to our police officers, to our first responders and, of course, to their families.