Almost a year ago, I and some other legal bloggers wrote about a phenomenon known as the Freemen on the Land movement. I called the post Freemen of the dangerous nonsense, for that is exactly what the movement is, for those desperate enough to sign up to it. Now a Canadian judge has done many judges around the world a huge favour by exploding the movement’s ideas and leaders (or “gurus”) in a carefully referenced and forensic 192-page judgment, which should be read by anyone who has ever taken a passing interest in this issue, and certainly by any judge faced by a litigant attempting the arguments in court.
The Freemen, alongside other groups with similar creeds, believe that if you change your name and deny the jurisdiction of the courts, you will be able to escape debt collectors, council tax and even criminal charges. As this member of the Occupy London movement, “commonly known as dom” wrote in guardian.co.uk (of all places) “if you don’t consent to be that “person”, you step outside the system“.
As you may have guessed, this magical technique never works in the courts, but judges are often flummoxed when faced with the arguments, which are odd and in many ways risible. But what has been lacking is an authoritative, systematic judgment explaining, in detail, why that is. Until now, that is.
Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rooke in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Canada has published a ruling which deals exhaustively with the movements’ (there are a number of similar ones of varying craziness and scariness) history and arguments. He groups the various movements including the Freemen under the title “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants” (OPCA).
Clearly, this is Judge who has had enough. After “[o]ver a decade of reported cases” which “have proven that the individual concepts advanced by OPCA litigants are invalid”,
What remains is to categorize these schemes and concepts, identify global defects to simplify future response to variations of identified and invalid OPCA themes, and develop court procedures and sanctions for persons who adopt and advance these vexatious litigation strategies.
His aim? To “uncover, expose, collate, and publish the tactics employed by the OPCA community, as a part of a process to eradicate the growing abuse that these litigants direct towards the justice and legal system we otherwise enjoy in Alberta and across Canada“. Good for him. Somebody needed to do it.
The facts of this particular case are neither particularly interesting nor relevant to much of what the Judge says about the movements. Rather, he has used this relatively simple case where a litigant advanced Freemen-type arguments (“he was not Dennis Meads, the “corporate identity”, but was present as Dennis Larry Meads, “a flesh and blood man””) as a hook to hang a much wider exposition of the movement and its ideas.
What the judgment says
This is a long judgment, on the scale of a reasonably sized book. I will try my best to point out a few interesting bits but I would recommend that you read it. It is well set out and easy to follow. My numbered references are to paragraphs.
Justice Rooke begins with a fascinating summary of the (surprisingly recent, only beginning in the last 20 years or so) history of movements such as the Freemen , Detaxers , Sovereign Men/Citizens , the Church of the Ecumenical Redemption International , and Moorish Law .
One thing which is crucial to understand is that despite its anarchical tone, the movement has leaders or “gurus” who peddle its ideas to people. This is (you might have guessed) usually for a fee. The gurus focus on people who are at crunch points in their lives, such as those facing bankruptcy, foreclosure on their home or difficult litigation involving access to their children. So,
an OPCA litigant in court is likely operating under instructions obtained from a commercial source, and has been told to conduct and frame his or her court activities in an unnatural, incorrect, and distorted context. The litigant is instructed to follow a script that is, in all probability illogical, and certainly contrary to law.
Another interesting if unsettling aspect of the movements is the links to violence – see  (“Alarmingly, certain members of the Freeman-on-the-Land movement believe they have an unrestricted right to possess and use firearms.”) The danger is such that the FBI classifies the Sovereign Men, the chief US proponents of the ideas, as a domestic terrorist movement .
How to spot them and what to do with them
Justice Rooke goes on to explain how to spot OPCA litigants [from 203] by the odd way their documents are presented, their distinctive language , the obsolete, foreign, or typically otherwise irrelevant legislation they cite  such as our very own Magna Carta, Black’s Law Dictionary and their own birth certificate  and the claim that they are immune to the court’s jurisdiction (‘magic hats’) , of which there are many shapes and sizes. There are many other identifying features which have been discussed on this blog as well as others.
Then the Judge goes on to explain why the arguments don’t work. I will not summarise the arguments. They are well laid out and referenced, reaching back to basic contract law to, for example, explain why the bizarre unilateral “agreements” produced by the movements are illusory. Although Canada-focussed, this section could form the basis of any judicial response to the Freemen arguments on these shores.
The oppressive, malignant entity
The Judge also considers appropriate court strategies for dealing with OPCA arguments so as to minimise the wasting of the court’s and, as importantly, other litigants’ time in facing down the arguments. This should be of interest to the UK courts, which could also follow this guidance:
I believe that a key element of an appropriate and successful response to OPCA litigation is that these proceedings be segregated, where possible, to minimize their effect on the innocent other parties involved. The suggested novel and conventional OPCA-specific court procedures (judicial review of suspect documents, show cause hearings, court security procedures, contempt, security for costs, elevated costs and damages, declaration of vexatious litigant status) may be a starting point for that objective.
A second aspect is that innocent parties be indemnified for the legal costs associated with OPCA litigation. No, or little, cost should flow to a litigant who is abused by OPCA strategies.
However, dealing with the cases systematically and efficiently will not be easy given the nature of the movement and the attitude of its adherents:
That challenge is not assisted by guru indoctrination that court and state actors are parts of an oppressive, malignant entity, or at a minimum willing supporting characters of a dark, concealed design. Given that, to say that the typical OPCA litigant appears to be ‘tightly wound’ is an understatement.
Importantly, the Judge also discusses the duties of lawyers  in such cases.
Eighth circle of hell
The Judge reserves his real ire not for the OPCA litigants or ideas, but its “gurus” who sell those ideas , for whom he quotes Dante’s Inferno:
evil counsellors – those who used their position to advise others to engage in fraud, and “the falsifiers” – alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and imposters, into the inner canyons of the eighth circle of hell.
He goes on, and this really is the crux (recall my use of the snake oil picture to illustrate my first post):
Persons who purposefully promote and teach proven ineffective techniques that purport to defeat valid state and court authority, and circumvent social obligations, appear to fall into those two categories. That they do so, and for profit at the expense of naive and vulnerable customers, is worse.
For litigants, he provides this very useful set of questions to ask of those selling the ideas to them, which I will copy in full:
- Why do these gurus seem to have little, if any, wealth, when they say they hold the proverbial keys to untold riches?
- Why do those gurus not go to court themselves, if they are so certain of their knowledge? If they say they have been to court, ask them for the proceeding file number, and see if their account is accurate. Those are public records.
- Can that guru identify even one reported court decision where their techniques proved successful? If not, why then are all successes a tale of an unnamed person, who knew someone who saw that kind of event occur?
- How are their ideas different and distinct from those surveyed and rejected in these Reasons?
- How are these advisors different from the OPCA gurus who have been unsuccessful and found themselves in jail? What did Porisky, Warman, and Lindsay do wrong?
- Will your advisors promise to indemnify you, when you apply the techniques they claim are foolproof? If not, why?
- If they cannot explain these points, then why should you pay them for their legal nonsense?
Your spells fail
Judges do not have an easy job. Like sports referees, they are criticised when they get it wrong but rarely praised when they get it right. They are respected but not loved, and garner little support from other public figures for the valuable work that they do.
But, as any lawyer knows, judges have to play the hand which they are dealt, whether in relation to a particular case or a social phenomenon such as the Freemen and their sister-movements. Sometimes, this means that they are on the front line of a battle between citizens and the state, and it is hard enough to deal with the sensible arguments. In a way, the barmy ones are much harder if the system is to remain fair but also efficient.
So, I think we should raise our (non-magic) hats to Associate Chief Justice Rooke who has taken the time and effort to attack the OPCA movement head-on, and provide other judges, worldwide, an extremely useful, practical and sensible approach for dealing with this dangerous phenomenon. And as interesting and sometimes amusing as it may be, dangerous is what it is. For people are signing up to these arguments, often paying to do so, in proceedings which could ruin their lives. And, as this Judge put it:
You cannot identify one instance where a court has rolled over and behaved as told. Not one. Your spells, when cast, fail.
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