A Regina lawyer is accusing the federal government and RCMP of trying to hide what he describes as the failures of Canada’s Witness Protection Program from the public.
Tony Merchant is representing Noel Harder who was a police informant and key witness in Project Forseti which was the largest organized crime investigation in Saskatchewan.
Harder has launched a lawsuit against the government and RCMP alleging that the Witness Protection Program failed to protect him and broke promises.
Merchant said while Harder is the main client in this case, his office has been contacted by four other people with similar stories about the program endangering them.
Merchant said his client and others want the public to know that witness protection does not work the way they might believe from watching television or movies.
“The police are trying to hide that from the public by getting a publication ban and hide from the public what really goes on in witness protection by not allowing anyone in the courtroom when the trial takes place,” Merchant said in an interview with 980 CJME.
He said Canada gets the benefit of putting criminals behind bars, but people like his client who make that possible wind up losing everything.
“The promises that were made to Mr. Harder were not kept and to others in his family were not kept. He was endangered as a result. He is way worse off than if he’d never gone in to witness protection in the first place,” Merchant explained.
The Attorney General of Canada made an application to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench for a publication ban on all the court proceedings in this case. If the ban is approved by a judge, it would require that all the court documents be sealed and the case to be heard in camera with no media or public allowed.
Merchant argues the government’s claim to want to be secretive in order to protect the witness makes no sense because everyone involved in Project Forseti already knows about Harder. He added that protecting undercover police officers is also not relevant because those involved no longer work undercover.
“What we will submit to the court as their motive is they’re trying to keep Canadians from knowing that witness protection isn’t effective,” Merchant said. “They’re trying to keep Canadians from knowing how the RCMP in this case and in others has made promises, not kept the promises and has abused the witness protection program and as a result weakened the reputation of the witness protection program.”
The RCMP media relations branch in Ottawa said it would not comment on the case while it is before the courts.
Arguments for and against the publication ban will be heard by a judge in a Regina courtroom Thursday morning.