When should convicted killers be granted bail?

Dennis Oland in Ottawa as top court hears groundbreaking bail appeal

Adrian Wyld/CP Images

Adrian Wyld/CP Images

FREDERICTON — A “very very happy” Dennis Oland has been spending quiet time with his family since his murder conviction was overturned last week, but he will make a return to the courtroom Monday, his lawyer says.

Oland will be in Ottawa as the Supreme Court of Canada hears arguments on a potentially groundbreaking legal question: When should convicted killers be granted bail?

William Teed, Oland’s Saint John, N.B., lawyer, said his client wants to be at the hearing, which stems from Oland’s own case but predates last week’s New Brunswick Court of Appeal ruling throwing out his conviction for the murder of his multimillionaire father.

Teed said Oland, a financial planner and the scion of one of the Maritimes’ most prominent families, has otherwise been spending his time “very quietly” since being granted bail last Tuesday pending a re-trial.

“Obviously he’s very, very happy to be back with his family, and just he’s enjoying that — being with them and all that goes with that,” said Teed.

“Obviously we have a trial to face, but right now he’s just glad to be home.”

The Supreme Court of Canada case is from Oland’s bid for bail after he appealed his second-degree murder conviction last December in the July 7, 2011, beating death of Richard Oland, 69.

No one in New Brunswick has ever been granted bail after being convicted of murder, and there have only been about three dozen such cases in Canada.

Oland’s initial application raised unresolved legal issues, and the Supreme Court has decided it wants to hear the case even though Oland’s personal situation has changed.

“The Supreme Court does wish to decide areas of law that are difficult, that are never decided, and that will only rarely come before them. That’s one of these cases,” said Toronto lawyer Alan Gold, one of Oland’s lawyers for the appeal.

Nicole O’Byrne, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said Monday’s appeal is of national importance. The law surrounding bail pending appeal in murder cases “has not been clearly defined” by the top court, she said.

Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia filed motions for leave to intervene. The Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario will also be an intervener.

“The court is interested because bail pending appeal — that sections of the Criminal Code, 679 and 680 —have not been considered by the Supreme Court of Canada in a very long time,” O’Byrne said.

“There are contrary decisions out of different appeal courts in different provinces and, more importantly, there are three grounds for appeal which are not that clear on how to apply whether or not somebody should be eligible for bail pending appeal,” she said.

Those three grounds are: Is there a reasonable chance for success for the appeal? Is the person a flight risk? And, would public confidence in the justice system be shaken if the person was released on bail?

O’Byrne said it’s the third ground that the court needs to clarify. “Right now it’s not clear,” she said.

Ontario’s Minister of the Attorney General says Canadians expect sentences for murder and other serious crimes to be enforced, and bail should only be considered when there are “very strong” grounds of appeal.

“It will be Ontario’s position that reasonable members of the public expect that sentences imposed for all crimes, but particularly for more serious offences, will be enforced when handed down,” wrote Gregory Tweney, acting director of the Attorney General’s criminal law office.

In its affidavit, Ontario said the seriousness of an offence and the length of sentence must be considered when considering bail pending appeal.

British Columbia and Alberta also agree the seriousness of a case must be considered.

“Where an appellant has been convicted of a serious offence (measured by factors such as its objective gravity, the circumstances in which it was committed, and the sentence imposed), he or she will be required to demonstrate strong grounds of appeal to satisfy the public confidence component,” wrote lawyer Christine Rideout, as an agent of the Alberta Attorney General.

Richard Oland, a well-known New Brunswick businessman, was found face down in a pool of blood on the floor of his Saint John office. He had suffered 45 blunt and sharp force blows to his head, neck and hands, although no murder weapon was ever found.

O’Byrne said it should take just one day for the Supreme Court to hear arguments, but it could be up to a year before it delivers its decision.

Teed said Oland will be accompanied by family and other supporters at Monday’s hearing.

“Dennis has been wholeheartedly supported by members of his family and numerous friends, and there will be family and friends there to once again support him,” said Teed.


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