Project Forseti informant facing charges had gun for protection, thought it was legal, defence says
Noel Harder thought he was legally allowed to have a gun he’s banned from possessing and needed it for protection from imminent danger, according to his lawyer Linh Pham.
Pham said police officers advised Harder to get a gun for protection. Pham said “dangerous people” were after Harder because he was an informant in Project Forseti – a 2015 investigation into organized crime.
Harder armed himself because he thought he was being set up and was afraid of being kidnapped or hurt after he got “negative vibes” when he met with someone to buy a used TV, Pham said during Harder’s bail hearing Friday.
Harder, 39, is facing 26 weapon-related charges after police received a call on Sept. 25 about a man in the driver’s seat of a Range Rover with a handgun on Powe Street and Rayner Avenue.
The witness told police they saw the man “rack” the gun (pull the slide back) then a round fell into the vehicle, Crown prosecutor Evan Thompson said in court.
Police pulled the vehicle over and found a loaded nine-millimeter restricted handgun, an air-soft pistol, bear spray, a knife and an axe. Harder is also accused of having a single fentanyl pill in his possession and breaching probation.
Pham said the charges are “not that serious,” “blown out of proportion” and called the items “questionable.”
Thompson said Harder is banned from possessing restricted guns as part of a previous drug-related conviction.
“It’s no secret guns are a problem in our community,” Thompson said in court.
Pham said Harder held an “honest mistaken belief” his weapon prohibition expired and said Harder was in the process of legally possessing a gun after Saskatoon police officers encouraged him to complete the classes.
“My understanding was the accused was advised to arm himself by high-ranking Saskatoon police officers,” Pham told reporters outside of court. “They actually went as far as enouncing him to apply for his gun licence and they went as far as encouraging him to apply for a concealed carry licence.”
Saskatoon Police Services declined to comment on the claim as the matter is before court.
Harder was a key police informant in Project Forseti, which led to 14 people being arrested including 11 members of the Fallen Saints Motorcycle Club and two Hells Angels. Police raided nearly 20 properties in Saskatchewan and Alberta and seized about 200 guns and $8 million worth of drugs.
Harder entered the Witness Protection Program and was living in Eastern Canada with the fear of being kidnapped and murdered, according to Pham. He said Harder’s identity was discovered while living there and his door was kicked in and his wife assaulted.
The family was kicked out of the witness protection program last year. Harder, his wife and two children moved back to Saskatchewan, where Harder wants to re-establish his business and raise his family.
“Mr. Harder was under the significant imminent threat of individuals trying to hurt him and his family,” Pham said outside of court.
Pham said Harder had the gun not for a dangerous purpose, but for necessity, saying it’s “not nefarious but innocuous.”
“It is not necessarily a dangerous purpose until a situation arises as such,” Pham said.
Thompson argued Harder is admitting to using a loaded gun if necessary and that having a gun for self-defence is still for a dangerous purpose and said if that was allowed “we would be in chaos.”
Pham is arguing Harder be released on $5,000 cash bail with conditions that include wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, surrendering his passport, adhering to a curfew and remaining in Saskatoon.
He points out Harder’s criminal record is nearly 15 years old and now knows he can’t carry the gun therefore it’s unlikely he’ll reoffend while out on bail.
A decision on Harder’s bail hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18 at Saskatoon Provincial Court.The defence did not request the typical publication ban on the bail hearing, so the information that came out in court can be reported publicly.
Harder filed a lawsuit against the RCMP in March claiming he and his family were mistreated in the Witness Protection Program. The claims have not been tested in court.