Eye for evidence

It takes a strong stomach and knack for detail to do what Harry Harding does


RCMP forensic identification officer Cpl. Harry Harding sees the world in patterns. An arch of splattered blood can tell him a victim died without throwing a punch in self defence. Footprints lifted using specialized chemicals may place an accused at a crime scene. A tiny hair plucked from a window can acquit a person of breaking and entering.

Harding’s job hinges on accuracy. Its not uncommon for him to spend hours examining a minuscule dot within a tiny line to ensure a perfect fingerprint match.

There are only 270 RCMP officers working forensic detail in Canada. Harding, Nunavut’s only forensic identification officer in Iqaluit, is proud to be one of them.

“We’re different,” he says.

The job requires a strong stomach, insatiable curiosity, methodical precision, endless patience — so much so Harding is building his own private plane — and the desire to work alone.

It’s not that Harding doesn’t like people. He’s married, has two grown children and routinely volunteers for police-related activities. And it certainly isn’t that he likes death. What he enjoys about his work is recreating crime scenes, putting together pieces of a puzzle.

“Evidence can help convict someone or help an unresolved case. That’s the satisfaction,” Harding says.

He insists his job is nothing like it appears on television shows. “I don’t run around and do interrogations,” he says. “The people I’m dealing with are dead.”

Indeed, much of his time is spent wearing rubber gloves, dusting for fingerprints and peering behind a camera lens. Harding’s 24-hour call schedule demands diligent preparation. He keeps a rolled up sleeping bag and tent on hand should he be flown out of town. A crime scene kit and camera equipment are ready to go in a moment’s notice.

Not all blood and gore

Harding’s work is not all blood and gore. Drug and break-and-enter investigations take up the majority of his time. This means spending hours poring over fingerprints in his lab within the Iqaluit RCMP detachment.

A recent drug conviction in Iqaluit hinged on fingerprints Harding lifted from a plastic drug package. Harding was ready to testify at the trial when the accused changed her plea.

“Sometimes you have fingerprint evidence that convinces people maybe they should change their plea to guilty. You still accomplish your goal whether you [testify] or not,” he says.

A notoriously curious youth, Harding joined the RCMP in 1975 at age 23. After 15 years on the force and several applications to join the elite forensic identifications section, he was accepted.

Sgt. Tracy Ramsay at the RCMP’s centralized training centre said each year 140 officers compete for the 20 coveted forensic identification training positions. Many are called, few are chosen.

After 26 years as an RCMP officer, the past 11 as a forensic investigator, Harding still relishes the challenges each new crime presents.

Despite the morbid aspect of his job, Harding considers himself lucky to be doing it. The work combines his two favourite hobbies — photography and line drawing — and serves the justice system as well.

When not in his sprawling lab, Harding flies to remote Nunavut communities, photographing crime scenes and assisting the territory’s 100 RCMP officers when needed.

“I’m just part of the system,” he says modestly.

His life is not just about work. Friends at the Frobisher Bay Kayaking Club call him trustworthy, reliable and down to earth. Fellow amateur aviation buffs marvel at the two-seater Murphy-Maverick plane he is building from scratch.

The plane is not just a hobby. When Harding’s three-year contract is up this summer, he plans to fly out of Nunavut in the aircraft.

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