New Brunswick

Police investigations into domestic abuse allegations against Dennis Oland not a certainty

An accusation made public earlier this month alleging Dennis Oland assaulted his wife in a Toronto hotel room in June 2018 may not be enough on its own to push police to re-examine the incident or put Oland in any new legal trouble, according to experts.

'I wouldn't hold my breath,' says Toronto criminal lawyer about chances police will revisit 2018 incident

In a document made public earlier this month, Lisa Andrik-Oland alleged her then-husband, Dennis Oland, assaulted her in a Toronto hotel room in June 2018. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

An accusation made public earlier this month alleging Dennis Oland assaulted his wife in a Toronto hotel room in June 2018 may not be enough on its own to push police to re-examine the incident or put Oland in any new legal trouble,  according to experts.

And they say had the incident become public in 2018, it probably would not have affected the outcome of Oland's second murder trial.

"It might be enough to start an investigation," Osgoode Hall law professor Lisa Dufraimont said about the domestic assault allegation. "Certainly not to lay a charge on the basis of what they have so far."

Toronto criminal defence lawyer Shayan Shaffie, who specializes in domestic assault cases, doubts the accusation by Oland's estranged wife Lisa Andrik-Oland will even be looked into by authorities based on the limited new description of what is alleged to have happened.

"I wouldn't hold my breath on the police initiating a renewed investigation in respect of a three-year-old matter," said Shaffie. 

"It's not impossible, but I think that it's not likely."  

Lisa Dufraimont, who teaches at York University's Osgoode Hall law school, says violent acts in one case by an individual generally cannot be used against that person in a trial about an unrelated matter.

A handwritten description 

On May 3, the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench unsealed details of an emergency intervention order applied for by Lisa Andrik-Oland in June 2020 to keep Dennis Oland from entering their then home. The two had been separated several months by then.

In a section of the application asking for details of intimate partner violence to justify the application, Andrik-Oland briefly detailed two incidents over 15 months where she said Oland had assaulted her, including once in Toronto in June 2018.

In a four-line handwritten description of what happened, she said Oland used his belt during a "physical altercation" to tie her hands behind her back in a hotel room. 

The incident was just four months before Oland was scheduled to stand trial a second time for the 2011 murder of his father, Richard Oland. According to Andrik-Oland's account, it was tumultuous and alarming enough to cause people in the room next to theirs to call  police.

"There was a physical altercation," she wrote. "Dennis at the time was going to begin his second trial so I told police everything was OK."

Lisa Andrik-Oland's handwritten account of what she says were two physical assaults by Dennis Oland may not be enough to trigger new police investigations. (CBC)

Police won't confirm

Police in Toronto will not explicitly confirm it dealt with the couple but do say officers were involved in a call of that type during the same weekend Andrik-Oland cited in her statement.

"From the details you have provided I have found an incident from June 9 (2018)," Connie Osborne, the manager of media relations for the Toronto Police Service, wrote in response to a request seeking information about it.

Andrik-Oland listed the incident as happening on Friday, June 8, but Osborne said police records show they were called well past midnight, at 4:53 a.m., on Saturday, June 9, to a "property" in the upscale neighbourhood of Avenue Road and Bloor Street West.

"They checked inside the property and spoke separately to a man and a woman to carry out inquiries and check the well-being of both individuals," Osborne wrote of officers who responded to the call

"Neither party made any allegations of criminality."

There are three hotels in that specific area, which is adjacent to the Royal Ontario Museum and sandwiched in between the affluent Yorkville shopping district and the University of Toronto campus.   

The Hazleton, the Yorkville Royal Sonesta and Windsor Arms are each nearby, but Osborne says it is not police practice to release specific locations of where incidents occur "unless it is a homicide investigation or has a public safety element."

A Toronto police officer, their head is not visible.
Toronto police will not confirm they responded to a domestic abuse call involving Dennis Oland at a city hotel in 2018 but do say officers were involved in a call of a similar type and at a similar time as described by Lisa Andrik-Oland. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Shaffie said although he doubts police will revisit the case based on the scarcity of information provided in the new accusation, he does think had police been told by Andrik-Oland that night that she had been tied up and confined, the consequences would have been serious. 

Police answering intimate partner violence calls are expected to use specific "mandatory charging" rules that do not apply in other assault cases. Those require the laying of a criminal charge by officers if there are reasonable grounds to believe abuse has occurred, with nothing else required.

"And that's irrespective of the gravity of the offence and it's irrespective of the wishes of the complainant," said Shaffie. 

"I think it's fair to say that had the police shown up in June of 2018, and a claim like the one that's included in this application was made at the time, the police certainly would have engaged in an investigation at that point.

"They would have separated the parties, they would have questioned them. And if they felt at the conclusion of their investigation that they had reasonable grounds to believe that a domestic assault had occurred or a forcible confinement, they would have certainly made an arrest at that time."

Shayan Shaffie is a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto who specializes in domestic abuse cases. He believes Dennis Oland could have been charged in 2018 if new allegations made by Lisa Andrik-Oland about being assaulted by him in a Toronto hotel had been expressed to police at the time. (Submitted)

An arrest in the heart of Toronto so close to the start of Oland's second murder trial would likely have triggered intense media coverage but it would not necessarily have changed anything about the trial itself.

Previous violence can't be considered

Dufraimont, who specializes in criminal law, procedure and evidence, said that with rare exceptions, an accused's presumption of innocence in a trial involving violence forbids the consideration of other unrelated violent events, including assaults.

"Rules about bad character are very complicated, but one of the rules is that the Crown can't rely on someone's violent character to prove that the person is likely to have committed a violent offence," she said.

Dennis Oland had been under intense legal and public scrutiny since the brutally violent murder of his father in July 2011.  

Family and friends and Oland himself insisted publicly he did not possess the temperament for the hacking and bludgeoning attack suffered by his father, and over the years there were efforts to convey that view to the court and the public.

Sixty-six people submitted character reference letters on Oland's behalf following his first trial, including one from his mother, Connie, depicting him as a "gentle" and "caring" person. Oland himself maintained he was not capable of erupting in uncontrollable anger.

"I'm not that kind of monster. I'd never do that to my dad or any person," Oland testified during the second trial about the murder.

That's part of what made Andrik-Oland's account of being assaulted especially jarring and why legal experts say it would have been out of bounds to be used in a murder trial if it had been known at the time.

"Courts are very careful when it comes to that kind of evidence, because it can lead to a miscarriage of justice," said  University of Calgary law professor Lisa Silver, who teaches courses on crime and evidence.

"It can lead to convictions that aren't based on the evidence before the court, but just based on a bad feeling about the accused."  

Lisa Silver teaches criminal law at the University of Calgary. Had accusations Dennis Oland assaulted his wife surfaced publicly prior to his second murder trial she believes it would not have changed the outcome. (Mike Spenrath CBC)

What did or did not happen in a Toronto hotel in 2018 sheds no factual light on what happened in Richard Oland's office in 2011, and Silver and Dufraimont both said a properly run murder trial would have sealed off any consideration of the hotel incident had it been public.

An allegation by Andrik-Oland of a second assault in New Brunswick in September 2019 occurred after Oland's acquittal and unlike the incident in Toronto did not involve police being called.  

It is also unclear which police force would have jurisdiction to investigate the matter since the accusation specifies only that it happened on an island in the St. John and Kennebecasis river system but not which one.   

Some islands are inside Saint John city limits and would be in the jurisdiction of Saint John police, and some are in the local service district of Westfield, which is the responsibility of the RCMP.

Shaiffe does not see any movement being made by police unless a more formal complaint is made.

"They could call her, they could say, 'Ma'am, we've had this brought to our attention, and we'd like to give you an opportunity to tell us what happened.'

"I wouldn't count on that. I think it's more unlikely than it is likely.".  

Dennis Oland has declined to comment on the allegations through his lawyer.