Dennis Oland, accused of his father's brutal murder, breaks his silence in new CBC true crime series
Filmmakers get intimate access to Oland, his family and his defence team as they prepare for retrial
"If the police ever call you in to the police station … just to question you and interview you, don't trust them." It was a quick phone conversation, but one that offered me a lot of insight into what Dennis Oland had been going through over the last five years. "Don't trust a thing they say. Get a lawyer right away." It was 2016, almost a year since Dennis had been convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in one of Canada's most notorious maximum-security prisons. For five years, he hadn't spoken to anyone in the media. But he was talking to me.
The entire Oland family had been close-lipped since the day multimillionaire Richard Oland was found bludgeoned to death, lying face-down in a pool of blood in his office in historic uptown Saint John, N.B. The rules were simple: speak to no one, keep your head down, get through it together. Because of that, the story had only been told from the outside. And if you asked an Oland, far from accurately. "This idea that there's investigative journalists out there that wanna … tell the truth … that certainly hasn't happened," says Dennis.
So we knew that what we had proposed — letting our cameras inside the Oland front lines — was a big ask. Why would they speak to me? What did I have that the others did not? I think the answer was simple: I'm "from away."
I'm from Vancouver, so prior to working on this film, the Oland name didn't mean much to me. But in the Maritimes, Oland is a very big name. For more than 150 years, the family has been brewing Moosehead beer there. So the murder of Richard Oland was a very big story. And when they arrested his son for the crime, it became huge. "Eyes are on you all the time," says Dennis. "I hear them whispering, 'That's the guy. He killed his father.'" The Oland murder was to become one of the most high-profile cases in Canadian history, and we got to follow the story in real time. It was an unprecedented opportunity.
We met Dennis's defence counsel for the first time standing outside the appeal court in Fredericton. Dennis was still in prison. Two months later, we were sitting in his lawyer's office in Toronto recording our first interview. We had managed to persuade Dennis, his family and his defence team to give us intimate and exclusive access as they prepared for his retrial.
Telling the story of an ongoing criminal case was something I'd never done before. I knew of no other Canadian documentary that had attempted to do this. It came with tremendous responsibility. The Olands felt that most people had written Dennis off as guilty and that this series could be a way of getting their side of the story out.
But we all knew the rules. The series would report the facts — no matter how uncomfortable they may be for the people involved. They agreed, and I felt privileged. And a little bit scared. The challenge of objective truth-telling became clear as we began to interview people tearfully talking about the effect this case has had on their lives. They've lost a husband, a son, a grandfather, a dad.
If we were going to tell this story in a fair and balanced way, I knew I had to relocate to Saint John. And so, over the last three years, I spent more time in the Maritimes than I did in B.C. During that time, our production team talked our way into defence team meetings and followed investigators as they tracked unexplored leads. We called, requested, begged and cajoled, asking everyone from police and prosecutors to witnesses and journalists for their help in understanding this story. I can only tell the story I'm granted access to and so I'm very grateful to those who opened up.
The often unpredictable nature of our court system was one of the most significant challenges we faced. Motions are brought forward. New evidence has to be considered. All of this meant never knowing when the story we were following would come to its conclusion. And of course, when a case is ongoing, everyone involved is wary. In a criminal trial, the stakes couldn't be higher.
There are humans at the heart of the story, and every important piece of the puzzle cannot be covered in a 500-word news piece.- Deborah Wainwright, The Oland Murder
We were there, with the camera rolling, as investigators uncovered new leads and the judge rendered important decisions. We drove with the accused to the courthouse to hear his verdict for a second time. It was a humbling opportunity.
While viewers may be split on their feelings about the verdict, I hope that our series encourages them to think critically about the coverage they see of any murder trial. There are humans at the heart of the story, and every important piece of the puzzle cannot be covered in a 500-word news piece.
Deborah Wainwright is the director of The Oland Murder.