Saskatoon

Police informant kicked out of witness protection for using drugs, among other reasons, gov't says

The federal government is explaining why a Saskatoon man who helped convict 20 criminals was kicked out of the Witness Protection Program.

Documents come in response to lawsuit filed by biker gang informant Noel Harder

Noel Harder was a police agent who testified in the most successful organized crime prosecution in Saskatchewan history. (CBC)

The federal Attorney General says a Saskatoon man who helped convict 20 criminals was kicked out of the Witness Protection Program earlier this year for several reasons, including using drugs and failing to answer phone calls and texts. 

Noel Harder — who served as a police informant and main witness for the largest organized crime investigation in Saskatchewan history — also visited a strip club known to be a criminal hangout, communicated with several people using his real name, and broke too many other rules, according to a court document obtained this week by CBC News. 

The 13-page statement filed in Regina's Court of Queen's Bench also reveals some of the inner workings of the secretive program, including how RCMP paid the Canada Revenue Agency more than $70,000 to cover a decades-old tax bill resulting from Harder's illegal drug deals.

The government's statement of defence was filed as part of a lawsuit filed by Harder, a biker gang informant. The government had argued to block the public release of the documents, but a judge disagreed.

"Harder's conduct ... constituted material contraventions of his obligations under the protection he signed," read the statement.

Police across Saskatchewan and Alberta seized guns and drugs, including significant amounts of counterfeit oxycontin and methamphetamine as part of Project Forseti. (CBC)

But, this week, Harder's lawyer Tony Merchant said it's the RCMP who failed to honour the contract. Merchant said they cut ties with Harder after he was no longer useful to them.

"This is just trickery. They say one thing and do another. They'll find a way to break the contract," Merchant said.

Neither the federal government nor the RCMP would comment on the statement, saying the matter is before the courts.

Harder served as a police informant and main witness for Project Forseti — an organized crime investigation that resulted in police seizing $8 million worth of methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl linked to three overdose deaths, as well as hundreds of guns.

Twenty people were eventually convicted, and a group linked to the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was legally declared a criminal organization.

"What Mr. Harder did was a great success for society, taking great risk," Merchant said.

A multi-million-dollar bounty was allegedly placed on Harder's head by the biker gangs that were targeted.

Harder and his wife and two kids were placed in witness protection but he was kicked out. He's now suing.

Harder said in an interview earlier this year he should not have been kicked out of the program. He said he made mistakes, but none of them were serious enough to warrant ejection.

Noel Harder's lawyer, Tony Merchant, says his client was not treated fairly during and after his time in the Witness Protection Program. (CBC)

He said RCMP failed to pay the agreed amounts for his testimony. He also said RCMP have not compensated him as promised for the loss of his business, home, vehicles and previous life back in the Saskatoon area.

In its statement, the government details the origins of Project Forseti in 2014. Police were targeting biker gangs and other organized crime groups.

"In Saskatchewan, the Hells Angels are generally viewed as the ultimate authority of outlaw motorcycle clubs and are regarded as being in the upper echelon of organized crime," read the statement.

At the time, Harder was serving as vice-president of the Fallen Saints Motorcycle Club, a group closely linked to the Hells Angels. Police say Harder agreed to become an informant if weapons charges against him were dropped.

Harder secretly recorded months of meetings and deals, many of which took place in his Saskatoon workshop.

Police eventually moved in and the Forseti arrests were made. Harder and his family were taken to a secret location.

Harder and the RCMP agreed to a payment of $300,000 for his testimony, as well as an unspecified weekly "maintenance payment," according to the documents.

Noel Harder is suing the federal government and RCMP for kicking him out of the Witness Protection program. (LinkedIn)

Harder and his family spent more than 16 months — Jan. 13, 2015 to May 24, 2016 — with "Emergency Protection" status rather than admission to the full Witness Protection Program. They were not given new identities. That meant they could not go outside their home without taking precautions. The kids were home-schooled as they moved frequently.

According to the government, the RCMP wouldn't admit to witness protection until Harder cleared up his debts. Harder owed more than $70,000 to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on unpaid taxes related to his drug dealing convictions years before.

Harder said it wasn't possible to pay his debts because he was appealing the amount, and was also in hiding and couldn't work.

The RCMP eventually paid the CRA $72,006, according to the documents.

The RCMP also cited Harder's painkiller medication addiction as a reason for the delay. Once this was no longer a concern, the two sides negotiated the smaller details — allowances for couples' counselling, four hours of weekly tutoring for the kids, medical and dental plans, moving expenses, and up to two annual neutral site visits with extended family members.

Harder and his family were eventually admitted to the program and housed in a more permanent location with new identities.

Harder was flown back to Saskatoon several times to testify. He was escorted to the courthouse each time by several heavily armed police officers.

The RCMP eventually served Harder with a notice he was being terminated from the program because of the stated violations. He was expelled May 22, 2018, according to the documents.

RCMP admitted it hasn't paid $75,000 of the $300,000, but said not all Forseti appeal periods have been exhausted.

Merchant said this case is about more than Noel Harder. He said it's essential for those running the Witness Protection Program to keep their promises.

"It's not that they deny they did the things to him, but they pretend they have a justification more or less because he's a criminal and they can mistreat criminals. Those are the people that go into witness protection," Merchant said.

"For society, they should care that witness protection is degraded because if people who would use witness protection can't trust it, then an important tool for stopping crime is jeopardized. So, this is a mistake by the RCMP. It's a mistake for society."

No court date has been set to hear the lawsuit.

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