Legal fight over Oland search warrants resumes

A court hearing involving search warrants in the year-old Richard Oland homicide investigation is set to resume in Saint John this morning.

Journalist argues murder is not 'private business'

Lawyers Bill Teed and Gary Miller talk away from the courtroom on Thursday. Lawyers are arguing over how much information should be released from the search warrants into the death of Richard Oland. (CBC)

A court hearing involving search warrants in the year-old Richard Oland homicide investigation is set to resume in Saint John this morning.

Seven of nine search warrants and several other related documents were made public on Thursday, but much of the information was blacked out.

CBC News and the Telegraph-Journal will argue on Friday to have some of the redacted material released.

Provincial Court Chief Judge R. Leslie Jackson agreed to black out huge sections of the documents after hearing arguments behind closed doors from the Crown and lawyers representing members of the Oland family.

But David Coles, a Halifax-based lawyer who is representing the media outlets, contends more details should be divulged.

"People like their privacy and everybody understands that, but unless you have a process that opens these things to the light of day, you run the risk of abuse … because there's no public supervision," he said.

Oland, 69, was found dead in his uptown office on July 7, 2011.

The released documents reveal police believe the prominent businessman was murdered.

Up until now, police have only referred to his death as a homicide.

Highest court has called for transparency

Search warrants are normally public documents. In 1982, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that once a search has been executed and evidence has been seized, the documents should then become public.

"One of the greatest intrusions of the justice system into private lives is the search warrant," said Linden MacIntyre, an investigative journalist with CBC News and author.

MacIntyre was involved in the precedent-setting Supreme Court case — MacIntyre versus the Attorney General of Canada — which affirmed the principle of transparency in the courts.

"It’s a suspension of your right to privacy, it’s an invasion of  your home, or your workspace, or your property in some form or another, so it has to be taken very seriously … and according to the law, people have to justify these search warrants [being sealed]," he said.

"When you have a major investigation of a high-profile, like the Oland investigation in New Brunswick, there is a natural curiousity, which may or may not be  legitimate, but there is a natural public interest.

"There is something about this murder that is being treated differently than an ordinary murder and I think it’s  the public’s right to know why," MacIntyre said.

"Why is this being treated with such deference to everybody?"

Murder not 'private business'

MacIntyre said the public has the right to know this information.

"Murder is a violent public act. It’s not private business, if somebody gets murdered, we have to know why so that steps can be taken to make sure that it doesn’t happen more often," he said.

"We have to know why it happened and what failed. People are not programmed to murder each other, so we have to know as much as possible about what happened in order that we can learn from it.

"And when the system begins to block access to information about what happened, why it happened, what’s being done about it, then we have to get suspicious."

Still, Coles says he faces a difficult task, convincing the court to release more of the blacked out information.

"I'm forced to argue without knowing what that redaction is and simply, as an officer of the court, have to rely on the judge when I present him the considerations he should really weigh and the evidence as we know it, based upon what's been released thus far, and rely that he will listen to the submissions and reflect on that and he'll have to make a decision," he said.

"But if you're asking me if it's difficult when, of course, as counsel I don't get to see what has been redacted, of course the answer is yes and it's an unfortunate process."