New Brunswick

Dennis Oland's charter rights violated by police, judge ruled

The Saint John Police Force violated Dennis Oland's charter right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure by obtaining personal information from his work computer after a court-issued search warrant had expired, a New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled prior to his murder trial.

Saint John Police Force seized computer records, tested blood-stained jacket after warrants expired

Dennis Oland, 47, faces life in prison after being found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2011 death of his father, prominent businessman Richard Oland. (CBC)

The Saint John Police Force violated Dennis Oland's charter right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure by obtaining personal information from his work computer after a court-issued search warrant had expired, a New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled prior to his murder trial.

"Police, seemingly without pause or concern for the limits of the authority given to them, went ahead and retrieved additional evidence, ostensibly seen at the time as very personal information related to Dennis Oland," Justice John Walsh wrote in his pretrial hearing decision, dated June 10, 2015.

It was the second time during the murder investigation that police "failed to respect a court order," the newly released court document reveals. Some of the applications used to obtain the warrants also contained "errors and omissions," Walsh found.

Oland, 47, was convicted Saturday of second-degree murder in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, prominent New Brunswick businessman Richard Oland. The jury delivered its unanimous guilty verdict after four days of deliberations.

Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, but parole eligibility can vary between 10 and 25 years. Oland, who has three children and a stepson, is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 11.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Walsh found Saint John police twice failed to respect court orders related to the murder investigation. (Andrew Robson court sketch)
Saint John Police Force Chief John Bates issued a statement following Saturday's proceedings, saying the guilty verdict provided "a degree of validation" for the force, which had been under "some intense scrutiny and assailed with criticism" over the investigation.

Among the allegations are possible contamination of the crime scene and that Deputy Chief Glen McCloskey suggested another officer lie to the court about his presence there. The New Brunswick Police Commission will be launching an investigation into the allegations "soon," said Bates.

Police obtained a total of 17 judicial authorizations to search for evidence in the murder case, including one for Oland's home on July 13, 2011, and one on Aug. 11, 2011, to search his computer at CIBC Wood Gundy, where he worked as a financial adviser.

Oland's defence lawyers filed an application with the Court of Queen's Bench, alleging the charter violation, and seeking exclusion of the evidence obtained, including a key piece of evidence in the Crown's case — a blood-stained brown sports jacket.

The application was heard by Walsh in May during a pretrial voir dire — a hearing to determine admissibility of evidence.​

His June ruling had been under a publication ban until the jury was sequestered to begin deliberations earlier this week.

Jacket tested after warrant expired

Walsh deemed the seized computer information, which included two letters Oland had written to his father on May 14, 2003 and Oct. 7, 2003, and two of the accused's pay stubs from 2010 and 2011, inadmissible at the trial, saying it would otherwise bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

No details about the content of the letters between the father and son are revealed in the decision. 

Several other financial documents, including some pay stubs, were entered into evidence at the trial. The Crown had suggested Oland's financial problems as a possible motive. Prosecutors described him as being "on the edge financially,"' while his father's investments were worth an estimated $36 million at the time of his death.

Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011. (Canadian Yachting Association)
The previous police breach of a court order, Walsh found, involved getting forensic testing on some of the 57 items seized from Oland's home — including his brown sports jacket — after the house warrant had also expired.

Oland, who was the last known person to see his father alive during a meeting at his office on July 6, 2011, told police he was wearing a navy blazer that night, but video surveillance and witness testimony showed he was wearing a brown jacket.

His father's body was discovered in his office the next morning, lying face down in a pool of blood. The 69-year-old multimillionaire had suffered 45 sharp and blunt force injuries to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.

The brown Hugo Boss jacket seized from Oland's bedroom closet a week later had three small bloodstains on it and the DNA extracted from those areas matched his father's profile, the trial heard.

It is upon these front-line documents that judges must rely to assess, weigh and maintain the sensitive balance between the public's right to have crime investigated and citizens' rights to have their privacy protected.- Justice John Walsh

"The police applied for and obtained a general warrant to forensically examine the various items seized under the house warrant [including the brown sports jacket] and then, inexplicably, allowed it to lapse before conducting the examinations contemplated," said Walsh.

Police did not pay sufficient attention to the requirements of the judicial orders, "whether one characterizes it as carelessness or negligence," he said.

However, Walsh ultimately ruled  there was "lawful authority for the forensic examinations of the things seized under the house warrant."

And while there were errors and omissions in the applications police had used to get both warrants issued by a provincial court judge, they weren't enough "in their nature and number" to invalidate either warrant, he said.

Still, Walsh took the opportunity to underscore the importance of the search warrant applications, known as informations to obtain (ITOs), in the administration of justice.

"It is upon these front-line documents that judges must rely to assess, weigh and maintain the sensitive balance between the public's right to have crime investigated and citizens' rights to have their privacy protected," he wrote.


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