New Oland homicide search warrant details to be released

New Brunswick’s chief provincial court judge has ruled additional details should be released from the sealed warrants in the 15-month-old Richard Oland homicide investigation.

Chief Judge R. Leslie Jackson found "no legal basis" to keep much of the information contained in the documents secret.

“I have concluded that the police have not demonstrated a serious and specific risk to the investigative integrity of the Oland homicide investigation; indeed their position is based on vague and general assertions of risk,” Jackson stated in his 20-page decision, released Friday after more than six weeks of deliberation.

“Other than the issue of hallmark evidence, which I did deal with later, there has been no legal basis established for most of the redacting sought to be retained, such as the names and statements of persons who are neither suspects, persons of interest or subjects of search warrants.”

Seven of the documents will be released on Oct. 5.

But some information will still be withheld, such as the physical position and condition of Oland's body, as well as the condition of his office and location of any of his personal effects, the judge ruled.

The reason, he said, is that it is "hallmark evidence…which only the killer or killers would know."

In addition, although the media will be given access to the names of the individuals searched, they will be prohibited from publishing those names or any information that would identify them, Jackson said.

All personal identity information, such as residential addresses, bank account numbers and names of accounts, drivers licence numbers and telephone numbers, will be redacted, he said.

Two other warrants, related to a log book, will also remain sealed "on the basis of the privacy interests of innocent persons," said Jackson. Nothing was found as a result of that seizure or the forensic analysis, he said.

Oland, a prominent businessman, was found dead in his uptown office on July 7, 2011.

Saint John police believe the 69-year-old was murdered, heavily redacted search warrant documents released by the court last month reveal.

Seven of the warrants were released on Aug. 16, but they were heavily redacted.

The blacked-out documents do not mention the cause of death, whether any weapons were involved or name any suspects.

CBC News and the Telegraph-Journal have been fighting to have the documents — issued between July 15, 2011 and Nov. 13, 2011 — released since December.

Search warrants are normally public documents.

Lawyers representing members of the Oland family have been fighting to keep the documents sealed.

"I have not been persuaded that the privacy interests of the other interested parties require the continued sealing of the remaining warrants and associated documents," the judge ruled.

“While I can also sympathize with witnesses who have told the police certain things in the course of their investigation, not suspecting that their names may be included in applications for search warrants, the law, as I understand it, does not permit the redaction of their names as long as uniquely private information is not disclosed.”

The names of all persons referred to in the various documents, other than those who were the subject of a search warrant, and the substance of their involvement shall be made available to the public, Jackson said.

The documents relate to searches police conducted at the home of Oland’s only son, Dennis Oland, on July 14; a car owned by an unnamed person the same day; a sailboat co-owned by Dennis’ wife, on July 21; the CIBC on King Street, where Oland “primarily” did his operational banking, and for CIBC Wood Gundy on Chipman Hill, where Dennis Oland worked as an investment advisor.

Jackson's decision could be a precedent-setting one for the province, according to Halifax-based lawyer David Coles, who is representing CBC News and the Telegraph-Journal in their bid to have the documents disclosed.

Although there are a number of cases across the country that have dealt with the unsealing of search warrants, there really isn't a definitive process, Coles has said.

It will be up to individual judges as to whether they will follow Jackson's lead, but the case has established a process, he said.

The legal battle has been a lengthy one, dating back to December.

Coles had argued that "judicial transparency is the rule, not the exception" and that the Crown had to show "exceptional circumstances" to justify keeping the documents hidden from public view.

At that time, Jackson ruled the documents, previously sealed by another provincial court judge, could remain sealed for another six months. He said he was satisfied that releasing them would compromise the police investigation.

In June, on the same day the sealing order was set to expire, Crown prosecutors sought a temporary extension until a court date could be set to argue the merits of a six-month extension. Jackson agreed, saying he felt having a "full and complete" hearing was "necessary."

At that hearing on June 27, Jackson said he would not agree to keep the warrants sealed for another six months without hearing new evidence.

He adjourned the matter until July 31 when one of the lead investigators with the Saint John Police Force testified behind closed doors as to why the documents should remain sealed.

Then, in a surprise move, the Crown abandoned its application to keep all of the documents sealed. Instead, the Crown argued during a closed hearing as to what specific information should continue to be withheld.

On Aug. 1, the affidavit of the lead investigator was released, with the exception of two words that appeared three times in the 10-page document.

But the release of the warrants and was delayed for another couple of weeks, at the request of lawyers representing members of the Oland family who wanted more time to go over the documents and decide what they want to argue to have blacked out.

Seven of the documents were released on Aug. 16, but they were so heavily redacted that some paragraphs contained only a word or two.

The two other warrants, which Jackson ruled are to remain sealed, relate to a log book.

An Oland family member originally gave the log book to police, but when investigators wanted to run forensic tests, consent was withdrawn, Jackson said.

Police obtained a warrant to "seize" the log book and a general warrant to allow for forensic testing, but "nothing was found," he said.

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