Advocates decry 2-year stint in solitary confinement for Sask. inmate

Advocates say governments need to work harder on alternatives after learning a Saskatoon inmate spent more than two years in solitary confinement.

John Howard Society of Saskatchewan CEO said more must be done to find alternatives

An inmate was released this week after spending two years in solitary confinement at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. (CBC)

Advocates say governments need to work harder on alternatives after learning a Saskatoon inmate spent more than two years in solitary confinement.

They say it's one of the longest uninterrupted terms of solitary confinement in Saskatchewan history.

Noel Harder was released from custody Thursday. He pleaded guilty to weapons charges and was released on time served because of two years spent in solitary awaiting trial.

John Howard Society of Saskatchewan CEO Shawn Fraser noted a recent BC court ruling that said anything more than 15 days amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Fraser said he doesn't fault corrections workers. The entire justice system is still stuck in the old mentality of throwing people in prison, he said.

More governments and policy makers need to ask whether justice and rehabilitation can be served in other ways, according to Fraser.

"It speaks to the need for our justice system to have some wiggle room in it, and that in my mind is making sure we're not overcrowding our prisons for people that don't necessarily need to be there," Fraser said.

Harder served as a police informant and main witness for Project Forseti, the largest organized crime investigation in Saskatchewan history. On Jan. 14, 2014, police raided 19 locations in seven cities. An estimated $8 million worth of methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl linked to at least three Saskatoon overdose deaths was seized.

More than a dozen members of the Fallen Saints, Hells Angels and other organizations were charged with a variety of offences. Harder was the star witness in a case that led to the convictions of more than 20 people.

Harder and his family were placed in the Witness Protection Program, but the government ejected him from the program, saying Harder violated the terms of the deal by using drugs and not returning phone calls when asked. Harder disputed the allegations, which some say were relatively minor violations.

On Sept. 25, 2018, the 39-year-old was arrested in the Sutherland neighbourhood after a pedestrian spotted a man in the driver's seat of a Range Rover "racking" a handgun — meaning pulling back its slide to ready it to fire.

Police arrested Harder charged him with more than a dozen weapons-related charges. Because of his previous role as an informant, he had been kept in solitary confinement since then for his protection.

That ended Thursday in provincial court in Saskatoon.

Harder pleaded guilty to five charges, most relating to the loaded 9 mm handgun he had in the SUV. Given enhanced credit for the time in custody, he was sentenced to time served.

Saskatchewan lawyer Pierre Hawkins said solitary confinement is used far too often, and governments must work harder to find alternatives. (Submitted by Pierre Hawkins)

Saskatchewan lawyer Pierre Hawkins has represented many inmates and said placing them in solitary confinement — including for their own protection — is extremely harmful. Even short stretches can cause lasting psychological harm, he said.

"It's a big problem because it takes an existing problem and makes it worse," Hawkins said.

No one from the provincial corrections service could do an interview because of the election campaign period.

The government's policy states solitary confinement should be used only as a last resort and for short, defined periods.