Oland’s unsolved murder warrants public scrutiny, lawyer argues
People deserve to know why no charges nearly 2 years after prominent businessman killed
Nearly two years after prominent businessman Richard Oland was murdered, no charges have been laid and the public deserves to know why, a lawyer argued in court on Tuesday.
David Coles was representing CBC News and Brunswick News in a bid to have a publication ban on the names of people whose property was searched and a sealing order on the closed-door testimony of the lead investigator in the case lifted.
The estate of Oland and his family, his son, Dennis Oland, the Saint John Police Force and the Attorney General of New Brunswick all opposed the application.
Justice William Grant, of the Court of Queen's Bench, reserved his decision after hearing about six hours of arguments from all of the parties. "I'll get it to you as quickly as possible," he said.
Oland, 69, a prominent businessman and member of the Moosehead beer-making family, was found dead in his uptown Saint John office on July 7, 2011.
Provincial court Chief Judge R. Leslie Jackson imposed the publication ban and sealing order last fall when he decided to unseal several search warrants in the case, with the exception of details about the condition of Oland's body and the crime scene.
Coles argued publication bans should only be imposed to protect the administration of justice.
In this case, he said, the ban itself actually threatens the administration of justice because Oland's "heinous" murder remains unsolved and there is a "legitimate public interest in knowing why."
Enough will be when the public in Saint John is satisfied that the police and the judiciary have done their job. Enough will be when this case is concluded.
The public deserves to be able to scrutinize the police investigation, said Coles. Otherwise, the whole administration of justice is "brought into disrepute."
Coles suggested Jackson clearly didn't think releasing the names of people searched would interfere in the police investigation because he didn't order the names to be blacked out when the search warrants were made public.
Any citizen willing to pay $90 can get copies of those search warrants from the court, find out who was searched and share that information with all of their friends, Coles said.
But many people rely on the media to keep them informed and the media is currently prohibited from printing or broadcasting those names, he said.
In addition, the lead investigator's testimony was only held behind closed doors in order to discuss search warrants that were sealed at the time, said Coles. Those warrants have since been made public, so there is "no longer any justification" for continuing the sealing order, he said.
Protection of innocent
Gary Miller, who is representing "interested parties" in the matter, argued the publication ban should be maintained to protect the rights of innocent people.
Protection of the innocent outweighs any deleterious effect of the "limited" publication ban in this case, he said.
There has not been "one shred of evidence" anything seized from anyone has "any forensic significance" to the investigation, Miller said.
He called for an end to the media's "never-ending barrage" of coverage on the case. "Enough is enough," he said.
Coles, however, countered that "enough will be when the public in Saint John is satisfied that the police and the judiciary have done their job.
"Enough will be when this case is concluded," he said.
Crown prosecutor John Henheffer, who was representing police and the Attorney General, said any decision to impose a publication ban is a "balancing process."
Judge Jackson had submissions from all of the parties, considered the law carefully and chose the "least restrictive" option, said Henheffer.
The court can't disregard Jackson's knowledge or experience, he said, calling the judge's decision "proper" and urging for it to be upheld.
Police have said they have a prime suspect in the Oland case and Chief Bill Reid has said he expects charges will be laid this year.
Previously-released search warrants suggest a possible financial motive, alleging the suspect owed Oland more than $500,000.