Saskatchewan

'They feel like they are in prison': Project Forseti informant sues RCMP over treatment in witness protection

A lawsuit alleges that Noel Harder and his family have suffered serious damage to their finances, mental health and sense of well-being. Harder is a key witness in Project Forseti, an investigation that targeted The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and the Fallen Saints Motorcycle Club.

Lawsuit alleges witness and family felt dehumanized and afraid after entering the witness protection

A lawsuit filed by Noel Harder's lawyer claims that the RCMP did not keep promises and that after three years in the program, Harder (pictured) and his wife have suffered psychological trauma and damage. (LinkedIn)

If Noel Harder and his wife knew what they do now, they would not have entered the federal witness protection program (WPP). Now they are suing the RCMP, which put them there.

"They feel like they are in prison," according to a statement of claim against the RCMP filed on March 26 in Regina by Tony Merchant of the Merchant Law Group.

The statement outlines numerous complaints Harder and his family had during their time in the WPP. They allege they experienced mental trauma, were dehumanized and suffered substantial financial damage. 

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Harder was a motorcycle dealer and convicted drug dealer. He came to know several members of outlaw motorcycle gangs through his business, Merchant said in an interview.

Harder was also a member of the Fallen Saints Motorcycle Club. He played a key role as an informant and a witness in Project Forseti — a massive police operation in Saskatoon, Sask. — and the trials that followed.

Named after the Norse god of truth, Forseti was a joint investigation between the Saskatoon Police Service and RCMP. Based in Saskatoon, Sask. the operation set its sights on two motorcycle gangs, the Hells Angels and the Fallen Saints. 

Guns, drugs and gang colours all figured into Project Forseti. (CBC)

Harder was instrumental in the success of the project, Merchant said. The lawsuit states that through Project Forseti, "Over one hundred charges were laid, over 200 illegal firearms were confiscated and $8 million in illegal drugs was seized." 

"Harder has testified at all trials required of him," according to the lawsuit. His obligations are not complete. He has continued to testify at ongoing trials related to Forseti.

But now, after three years of being in WPP, Harder is regretting his decision to help the law. 

'They feel like they are in a prison'

"He was given a whole bunch of promises about both protecting him financially, because going in to witness protection would impact him hugely in a financial way, and all sorts of promises about protection for him and his family," Merchant said.

"The government didn't keep any of these promises."

The lawsuit alleges that during his time as an informant, Harder and RCMP officers discussed what time in WPP would look like and how Harder would be compensated. Protection for his family and his finances were the chief concerns, according to the lawsuit. 

After the Forseti arrests were made in January of 2015, Harder's family was immediately moved off of their acreage and out of the province. 

The lawsuit says Harder was promised that his belongings would be packed up or sold by professionals and that his business equipment would be moved. Allegedly, none of this occurred.

Harder also lost financial information during this move, the statement of claim says, which has continued to impact the family. He was also involved in a legal dispute with an accountant, unrelated to Project Forseti, which he was unable to resolve once he was taken into WPP. Harder allegedly owed the Canada Revenue Agency $800,000, but this was reduced to $185,000. 

Noel Harder has been in court and in the witness box for every trial he has been asked to be a part of, according to Merchant. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The lawsuit also claims the RCMP has refused to provide medication for Harder's panic attacks and for a back injury sustained 10 years ago. 

'They're alone and they're afraid'

The statement claims Harder's two children have been out of school for approximately 540 days, since they do not have new identities, and the family feels that enrolling their children without new names could cause them serious harm. 

"Some of these very dangerous people can be expected to be looking to be vengeful on Noel and his wife and maybe even his children," said Merchant. 

The family lives in fear, according to the claim. It says both Harder and his wife have been diagnosed as "having experienced psychological trauma and damage."

"The truth of the danger he's in is demonstrated by the fact that the RCMP said you can't put your children into school. The RCMP said you can't have a cell phone. The RCMP said you can't have a landline. The RCMP said you can't have any computer access," said Merchant.

In November 2017, Harder was at an establishment with 100 Hells Angels members and their associates, says the claim. It says Harder had to pretend that he had a gun under his shirt to escape unharmed. 

The family was given a "Non-Voluntary Termination" and are no longer in the WPP. Merchant said he doesn't know where his client is at the moment and only communicates with Harder through an RCMP officer as an intermediary. 

Sending a message

In the statement of claim, Merchant alleges that his client's Charter Rights were violated during their time in the WPP and that "this failure is deserving of sanctions."

"It's terrible for him but it's bad for society that something upon which we rely, as being working effectively, the RCMP make promises and don't keep their promises," said Merchant. 

Tony Merchant says the lawsuit needs to send a message that people in WPP need better support and for the RCMP to keep their promises. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

It goes on to say that damages awarded to Harder and his family should be "very large" and "carry the message to the Crown that appropriate care must be its primary mandate."

Merchant said he had not added the total losses Harder has incurred or the damages suffered but, "It's in the range of a million dollars," he said. 

"We want the court to make an award that says to the government 'We're going to punish you because you've not kept your word and society relies on the RCMP to be honest in these circumstances,'" said Merchant. 

Merchant said the reputation of WPP suffers when those that have testified are mistreated by the system.

"The only way that you're going to address, so-called, organized crime is with programs like this program and with people who put themselves at risk," said Merchant

"They're alone and they're afraid."

A representative from the RCMP said in an email, "The safety of individuals in the care of the Witness Protection Program is our number one concern." They added they would not comment on matters before the court. 

About the Author

Alec Salloum

Journalist

Alec Salloum is a reporter and producer with CBC Saskatchewan. Salloum has worked at CBC Saskatchewan since 2016. Story idea? News tip? Want to say hello? Get in touch at @AlecJSalloum or alec.salloum@cbc.ca