Harold Backer’s return greeted with anger, relief

Harold Backer was tanned, thin and clean-shaven, as he appeared before a Victoria provincial court judge on Tuesday to face fraud charges.

The Victoria mutual-fund salesman, who had been missing since 2015, betrayed no emotion and listened attentively to court officials.

article continues below

He avoided looking into the public gallery. Two of his children, Harrison and Emma, were present.

Backer will be held in custody until his next court date, set for May 2 at 11 a.m. The judge approved a publication ban request from the defence, and a request from the Crown that Backer have no contact with any complainants, except through his lawyer.

Backer is facing two charges of fraud over $5,000, however Victoria police have said more charges may be coming.

The 54-year-old former Olympic rower caught Victoria police by surprise when he turned himself in on April 13, after disappearing in November 2015.

Backer’s last known location was the United States, raising questions about how he slipped back into Canada.

On Nov. 3, 2015, Backer told his wife he was going for a bike ride and never returned home.

He was caught on a security camera bicycling away from the Coho ferry terminal in Port Angeles, Washington later that day.

On the one-year anniversary of his disappearance, witnesses came forward to the Times Colonist, saying Backer was seen in Port Angeles after Nov. 3.

The witnesses said neither Victoria police nor Port Angeles police were interested in what they had seen.

Before he disappeared, Backer wrote a letter to several of his clients expressing remorse for decisions he made that cost them money and taking responsibility for financial losses.

In the letter, which some people initially thought sounded like a suicide note, Backer said he ran a pyramid scheme and there was no way he could ever pay back the losses his clients experienced.

The letter was sent to 15 clients and arrived at their homes within a day or two of his disappearance.

While it's unclear how much money is involved, it is easily in the millions, given that just two of the families are saying they have lost a total of more than $2 million.

— with files from Andrew A. Duffy

asmart@timescolonist.com

aduffy@timescolonist.com

- - -

Victoria mutual-fund salesman Harold Backer, who is accused by former clients of defrauding them of millions of dollars, is getting a warm reception from family and friends after turning himself in to police.

The 54-year-old former Olympic rower disappeared in November 2015 and resurfaced last week, walking up to the counter at Victoria police headquarters.

He is to appear in a Victoria courtroom today, charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000.

The Facebook page Finding Harold Backer is filled with dozens of comments from people saying they are relieved to see Backer had returned home.

Harold’s older brother, Ralph Backer, said he knows very little about where Harold was or what he was doing.

“I could tell you he wasn’t back [in Canada] very long at all before he went to the police station,” he said from his home in Vernon. “We’re sort of surprised that he came back when he did.”

He said the past year and a half has been difficult for the family. “That’s the biggest thing — wondering. You don’t know if he’s dead or alive. But we’re very, very relieved that he’s back and safe,” he said.

“I just talked with his son and daughter yesterday. They’re very happy that he’s back.”

Tammy Pal, a friend of the Backer family since the 1970s, said she had been holding on to hope he would return.

She attended his father Bill Backer’s memorial in July, and noted that Harold Backer’s absence was a “gaping, painful hole.”

“I’m thrilled he’s back. It’s something I’ve been praying for, for the last year and a half. I think everyone just kept holding out hope that he’d come home,” she said in an interview from Lopez Island, Washington.

Olympic rower Adam Kreek said that while many in the rowing community are unhappy with Backer, many are also ready to welcome him back.

Some are accusing Backer of financially harming them, “so there’s some anger and I’m sure some mixed emotions,” Kreek said.

“But at the end of the day, I think most people are happy that he’s safe and that he’s gone to police and is dealing with things. Personally, I can’t imagine the mental strife or turmoil he’s going through, so the goal is to be as supportive as possible.”

A few of his accusers, who asked not to be named, said they were considering attending court today to get a glimpse of the man who they claim betrayed them after they trusted him with their life savings.

Several said they are angry that Backer fled rather than deal with the accusations.

Victoria police declined requests for comment on the case.

Backer left his Greater Victoria home, saying he was going for a bicycle ride, and didn’t return. He was caught on a security camera in Port Angeles, Washington, on Nov. 3, 2015.

The image showed Backer riding his bike away from the Coho ferry terminal in the early afternoon.

On the one-year anniversary of his disappearance, witnesses came forward to the Times Colonist, saying Backer was seen in Port Angeles after Nov. 3.

The witnesses said neither Victoria police nor the Port Angeles police were interested in what they had seen.

Before he disappeared, Backer wrote a letter to several of his clients expressing remorse for decisions he made that cost them money and taking responsibility for the financial losses.

In the letter, which some people initially thought sounded like a suicide note, Backer said he ran a pyramid scheme and there was no way he could ever pay back the losses his clients experienced.

The letter was sent to 15 clients and arrived at their homes within a day or two of his disappearance.

While it’s unclear how much money his clients lost, it is easily in the millions given that just two of the families are out a total of more than $2 million.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

asmart@timescolonist.com

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist

Find out what's happening in your community.

Most Popular