Freeman on the Land: Paper Terrorists or Paper Tigers?
Michael Wickson (2L)
There is a bizarre surge in legal activity that has been taking place over the past several years in Western Canada. This is the volume of people claiming to be “private persons,” “natural persons,” “sovereign citizens,” or “freeman on the land.” They claim to fall outside the jurisdiction of the government as they have not consented to being subject to the artificial laws of the state. The courts have created their own names and labelled these individuals as either “vexatious litigants” or “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument (OPCA) litigants.” When charged with an offence, these individuals will employ various tactics known as paper terrorism to evade conviction and attempt to outsmart the courts.
Paper terrorism is the use of falsified documents to harass and intimidate others. This type of harassment can be directed at anyone, but is often used against police and government officials. Freeman will often use these tactics to launch frivolous claims against police for something as simple as a traffic ticket.
Freeman are known to twist various laws to support their assertions while simultaneously rejecting the statutes that apply to their current situation. As an example, is not uncommon for a Freeman to claim that international laws overrides domestic laws. As such the mobility rights guaranteed by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are being infringed if they are stopped for traffic safety violation. They may outright reject the authority of the police because they did not sign a contract with the police, did not consent to being arrested, or that the police require a warrant to pull them over (which they also did not consent to). Although these claims may seem ridiculous, their presence is very real and is become a growing problem in the court system.
Another common tactic used by Freeman is to assert that by changing the capitalization of their name on court documents will give them a special status to whom the laws do not apply. This tactic is based on a conspiracy-like idea that a person’s name spelled in capital letters refers to a corporate legal identity that is assigned at birth by the government … instead of the other theory where capital letters are simply used to distinguish one’s surname from their given names on court documents (e.g. Chris PAUL, Paul GEORGE, George MICHAEL, etc.). They can then deny being the person identified in the charges. The connection between the legal person and the special person is what they refer to as “joinder,” a misuse of the legal term that can create additional confusion when dealing with these individuals.
Another word that is often referenced in a strange manner by Freemen is the term “common law” itself. They throw the term but there is just something off about they manner in which it is being used. That is because they are referring to a supposed “Roman Common Law” and how it overrides all domestic statutes (the Romans used a civil legal system). But the crown jewel of all Freeman claims is section 15 of the Criminal Code of Canada:
No person shall be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission in obedience to the laws for the time being made and enforced by persons in de facto possession of the sovereign power in and over the place where the act or omission occurs (R.S., c. C-34, s. 15).
It is a bit of a head-scratcher, but I’m sure any Freeman would be happy to provide their legal interpretation.
Although this may seem laughable, the problems arise because when an accused makes a claim in their defence, the court is obligated to address it. By employing paper terrorist tactics, the accused attempts to evade conviction by flooding the courts with baseless rhetoric while frustrating the courts by forcing them to address each claim. Freeman also attempt to get as many documents notarized as possible, a tactic which the Law Society of Alberta has warned against. This is a disturbing trend as the courts can become bogged down addressing meaningless claims.
The list of excuses and non-sense claims is almost endless. It is reminiscent of arguing with my older brother when he was a teenager. Just continuous attempts to twist the law and find loopholes and omissions that support their position and will ultimately exonerate them. This has been a great frustration for the justice system as it is truly a waste of time and money for everyone involved. But the courts are getting smarter and learning how to deal with these individuals.
In 2012, Associate Chief Justice Rooke of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench lay in wait and when the first vexatious litigant entered his courtroom, he pounced. The litigant used various tactics to argue his matrimony division … but let’s just say that this did not go according to his plan. The landmark judgment that followed (Meads v Meads, 2012 ABQB 571) was almost 200 pages and contains over 730 paragraphs. It is a thorough analysis of the tactics used by Freeman up to that time. They are all referenced, analyzed, and officially debunked for the worthless arguments they are. The purpose of this extensive use of obiter was to provide a tool for judges and prosecutors with which to combat these litigants without being required to deeply analyze each claim. Instead, Prosecutors and Judges can reference this case and simply move on to addressing the real issue at hand. This judgment has been widely cited within (actual) common law jurisdictions.
Despite this, the amount of Freeman found lingering in the justice system does not seem to be dissipating. As Associate Chief Justice Rooke points out, many of these litigants are just trying to navigate the legal system, but cannot afford legal expertise so they turn to the internet for help. The important thing for legal professionals to remember is not to get frustrated with paper terrorist tactics as they have continuously proven to be fruitless and can be dealt with through patience and adherence to legal principles. Despite all the grandiose talk and assertion by Freeman they actually don’t have any legal teeth and can easily be pushed over.