Everyone was on the lookout for Noel Harder.
In January 2015, a sequence of police raids throughout Western Canada generally known as Project Forseti had netted lots of of weapons and greater than $8-million price of methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl. Most of the 20 arrested had been members of the Hells Angels or Fallen Saints motorbike golf equipment.
Harder had usually been seen on social media sporting his Fallen Saints jacket, however he was the solely senior membership member not in custody. He had disappeared.
Was Harder a fugitive? Was he useless? Or was there one other clarification?
I referred to as each potential supply — criminals and crime fighters — and so they all stated they’d no concept. But somebody clearly did.
A couple of weeks later, I used to be at my desk in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newsroom when the telephone rang.
“Hey, is that this Jason?”
“It’s Noel Harder. I hear you are on the lookout for me.”
Harder did not inform me the place he was, however he answered the one query on everybody’s minds.
“I used to be the informant. I used to be an agent.”
He stated he had been working undercover for months, gathering proof of drug offers, gun-running and connections to organized crime. I later discovered police handlers spirited Harder and his household to Mexico the day earlier than the raids.
His images, video recordings and testimony had been central to the convictions of almost two dozen criminals.
But Harder’s life, and the lives of his spouse and two children, had been by no means the identical.
Harder was later ejected from the witness safety program regardless of a reported $2-million bounty positioned on his head by organized criminals, was arrested for having a gun in his automotive, spent greater than 700 days languishing in solitary confinement as he awaited trial, and was launched two years in the past “utterly damaged,” his spouse of 20 years stated.
Noel Patrick Harder died of well being issues earlier this month, his spouse stated. He had simply turned 43 years outdated.
In our many telephone calls and conferences, Harder alternately spoke of his dream to dwell together with his household on a tropical seashore, and the concern he may very well be murdered at any moment.
“I’m simply making an attempt to get issues sorted out for my household earlier than that occurs,” he stated.
During his journeys to testify at a downtown Saskatoon courthouse, he was all the time accompanied by a small military of well-armed uniformed officers.
But at the funeral for this villain/hero Friday, there was no police escort, no honour guard, no 21-gun salute. A man who could have executed greater than anybody else in the province to fight organized crime was quietly memorialized by a few members of the family at a downtown Saskatoon funeral house.
I met Noel Harder in the summer time of 2010, 5 years earlier than the Project Forseti raids. I used to be despatched to do a brief function on the former drug seller who’d began his personal landscaping enterprise.
We met for an early morning interview at a espresso store. He advised me about his traumatic childhood, which included stints in shelters to keep away from a severely abusive stepfather.
One of Harder’s most vivid reminiscences is the day his stepfather took four-year-old Noel and his canine, Muggins, out to the railway tracks close to their house. For no obvious motive, the man shot the white cocker spaniel.
“He simply left me there with my useless canine. My childhood was actually f–ked,” he stated.
His huge brother Donnie died after swallowing a bag of cocaine that ruptured. Harder took over Donnie’s enterprise and have become one in every of the province’s prime drug sellers earlier than being caught and jailed.
During that first interview, Harder stated he was now centered on being a good father.
“I need my children to be comfortable. I need them to have the life I by no means had.”
I requested if I may deliver a photographer to one in every of the websites he was landscaping. He gave me the deal with in Saskatoon’s City Park neighbourhood.
“What time ought to we meet you?” I requested.
“Come any time in the present day or tomorrow. I do not need you to assume I’m simply shoveling s–t for the publicity.”
We confirmed up late that afternoon to discover two staff — a Ukrainian newcomer and a fellow ex-convict — shoveling in the entrance yard whereas Harder pushed a full wheelbarrow up a slight incline. All three had been coated in dust and sweat.
Out of curiosity, I drove previous the spot twice the subsequent day. Harder was nonetheless there, nonetheless pushing the wheelbarrow uphill.
A month later, we ran into one another at a ironmongery shop. He thanked me for the story and stated we should always write a ebook collectively some day. I laughed and uttered one thing non-committal like, “We’ll see.”
We did not discuss once more till he referred to as from inside the Witness Protection Program. He wasn’t claiming to be a good particular person — he was, in any case, pressured to work as an informant after being caught with a bag of weapons in his automotive.
He appeared determined to inform his story, however wasn’t anticipating absolution.
“I simply need my children to know me as the man who did one thing good.”
Two months later, Harder was referred to as to testify at a triple-murder trial in the loss of life of a drug seller linked to the biker gangs.
I used to be additionally referred to as to testify — not about the assassination, however about the earlier interviews I’d executed with Harder.
The defence legal professionals wished to see my notes. They argued there may very well be related data to the assassination. The StarPhoenix’s lawyer argued there was no proof my journal contained something related, and that journalists’ notebooks shouldn’t be used for legal professionals’ “fishing” expeditions.
For three days, I sat in the witness field answering basic questions on biker gangs and different data that Harder had already allowed me to reveal publicly. I didn’t talk about the contents of the journal.
In the finish, the decide ordered me to flip over my notes. I advised him, “I respectfully decline.” He had me handcuffed and brought into custody for contempt of court docket.
My bag containing my journal was seized, though our lawyer efficiently argued that the journal ought to at the least be sealed till one other listening to may happen.
A legal lawyer was introduced in to symbolize me. He advised me the decide was livid, and will sentence me to jail for contempt.
I thought of a brief name I received from Harder simply days earlier. He stated he’d heard about the demand for my journal.
He stated that if I used to be dealing with jail time — or if he was useless — I may hand it over to them.
“I do know what it is like in there. I do not need that for you,” he advised me.
In the finish, there was no resolution to make. The defence ultimately backed down. The decide refused to give again the journal, however we efficiently utilized to have it incinerated.
The Forseti circumstances took a number of years to conclude. Prosecutors and police secured convictions towards almost two dozen folks.
Throughout it, Harder was a polarizing determine in authorized circles.
One lawyer who defended a number of Hells Angels stated officers “made a take care of the satan” whereas one other referred to as him a narcissist and a sociopath. A decide referred to as Harder a “grasp manipulator.”
But in texts Harder shared with me, a police officer referred to as him his “buddy” and stated he “did a good thing for Saskatoon.”
A Crown prosecutor texted Harder to say, “I have not advised police something, besides after I thought it will allow you to.… Let me know should you want me.”
Another officer stated informants usually include a “boatload” of points, however that Harder gave them an unprecedented look inside the legal underworld, took good notes and was well-prepared for court docket.
Organized crime knowledgeable Yves Lavigne stated society ought to be grateful to Harder, regardless of his flaws.
“Without this informant, or this agent, as he turned, they’d not have executed something in Saskatchewan,” he stated.
In 2018, shortly after the Forseti circumstances concluded, I received a name at my desk in the newsroom of CBC Saskatoon. It was Harder once more. He was not on a seashore in Mexico. He was in Canada and stated he’d been kicked out the Witness Protection Program.
Officials stated he violated the settlement through the use of medication and never calling his handlers when required. Harder admitted to this, however stated the actual motive was that he was not helpful and was being “reduce unfastened.”
He once more wished to inform his story — not about the legal underworld, however about the flaws in the justice system. He hoped that shining a gentle on his scenario would stop officers from additionally ejecting his spouse and children from the program.
Through Harder and different sources, I discovered a $2-million bounty had been positioned on Harder’s head. We organized to meet in a secret location, with solely a handful of my colleagues conscious of the particulars.
He shared transcripts of the witness safety negotiations with justice officers. They promised to pay him $500,000 and to discover good colleges and medical take care of the children.
“They’re going to care for your wants and your security when that is executed,” learn the transcript. “No one’s going to depart you excessive and dry.”
His spouse and children had been shuttled to one other location. He stated that was the hardest moment of his life, understanding this may very well be the closing goodbye.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I really like you,” Harder recalled telling his crying children. “Be robust for Mom. I’m gonna repair this.”
Later that yr, Harder returned to Saskatoon. He admitted it was the incorrect transfer, however with out a job, he wished to retrieve his remaining enterprise tools and autos to promote.
On Sept. 25, 2018, he was arrested by Saskatoon police with a loaded handgun and different firearms in his automobile.
Harder was despatched to the native jail to await trial. He was positioned in solitary confinement, or “administrative segregation,” for his personal safety. Many of the bikers he testified towards had been additionally housed at the jail.
For 743 days, Harder was confined to his cell for at the least 23 hours per day. The United Nations defines any solitary confinement of greater than 22 hours a day for 15 days or extra as “torture” that may cause irreparable psychological and bodily injury.
At first, Harder referred to as me each few weeks — generally to chat about politics or his children, and generally about the growing pressure of his incarceration. He all the time maintained he wanted the weapons for cover after justice officers refused to accomplish that.
Other inmates may very well be heard in the background on the telephone calls, swearing and shouting threats at Harder equivalent to “You rat. Rat! F–king rat!”
His calls turned much less frequent, his voice weaker, his ideas extra scattered. In a kind of closing conversations, he stated he simply wished to put every thing behind him.
In the fall of 2020, Harder pleaded responsible to the weapons possession and was launched instantly due to the extraordinary size of time in solitary.
The decide expressed sympathy for him.
“Essentially, two years in a field by your self,” the decide stated, in accordance to a Global News report. “I do not know what it does to a particular person psychologically.”
In the days following Harder’s launch, I referred to as his spouse to ask in the event that they’d like to discuss. She stated he was fragile and never prepared to see anybody.
She and I did not converse once more till this week, after a colleague observed Harder’s obituary on-line.
I referred to as her. She stated I ought to inform his story — the good and the dangerous — and attend the funeral.
Harder was eulogized Friday morning by the funeral house’s in-house celebrant. His spouse and children, mother and a dozen different members of the family sat in entrance, with 4 extra of us dotted round the again pews of the small, wood-panelled chapel.
We discovered he was a teen model, strolling runways in Amsterdam and different European capitals. He was an knowledgeable in the martial artwork of jiu-jitsu.
He may very well be a imply brother, handcuffing his sister to the bannister or placing gum in her hair on faculty image day. But he was additionally fiercely protecting and loving. He would therapeutic massage her temples and take care of her when she struggled with migraine complications.
The speaker additionally stated it was his brother Donnie’s loss of life that modified Harder without end.
“He would wrestle with these demons, and it is a part of what led us right here in the present day,” she stated.
Following a prolonged slide present, most of the photographs displaying Harder taking part in together with his youngsters as toddlers, his sister rose and walked to the podium.
She learn the poem Desiderata. Noel Harder had recited it for an performing class and browse it at Donnie’s funeral.
“The world is filled with trickery. But let this not blind you to what advantage there’s; many individuals attempt for prime beliefs, and in all places life is filled with heroism,” she learn.
“With all its sham, drudgery and damaged desires, it’s nonetheless a lovely world.”