‘Freeman’ movement rejects taxes, laws and debts, but is it a threat?

‘Freeman’ movement rejects taxes, laws and debts, but is it a threat?

There's something seductive about a philosophy that says you can decide which laws and rules governing society don't apply to you.

You don't have to pay taxes; you don't need a driver's licence, car insurance or licence plates. You don't recognize police authority. You're not obliged to pay your debts because the system that created them goes against "natural law."

All you need to do is create some legal-looking documents to declare yourself a "sovereign citizen," a "freeman of the land."

As ridiculous as it sounds, so-called freemen are no joke. As The Canadian Press reports, thousands of Canadians have adopted this fringe ideology.

They often wind up in court on tax-evasion charges, their arguments cutting no ice with judges. Others have had confrontations with police over things like refusing to produce a driver's licence.

[ Related: Ottawa dentist faces financial ruin for taking part in tax-evasion scheme ]

The freeman movement, not surprisingly, has American roots. It's on a continuum that extends from more mainstream libertarianism out to the "posse comitatus," which believes no government larger than the county level has any legitimacy. It doesn't recognize federal taxing power and has spawned armed militias.

The FBI has labelled the freeman movement as a domestic terror threat after confrontations with police, including two officers shot during a 2010 traffic stop, CP reported.

Just why the freeman movement has taken hold in Canada is up for debate.

Perhaps its growth is in part due to the cynicism about and alienation from mainstream politics. Voter turnout continues to slide as Canadians increasingly see the system as scandal-ridden and unresponsive.

“People can’t afford to live and they’re (government) basically destroying society, in our view,” freeman Brian Alexander of Kamloops, B.C., told CP.

“They've created it themselves. Most of us are peaceful. We paid our taxes, we love our country and all that but when they start pushing at you, you tend to start asking questions and that’s where this whole movement comes from.”

But it's also attractive to personalities who haven't been successful within the system, or people who've fallen victim to the stresses of economic change.

"It appeals to the angry male whose life isn't working out very well," Ron Usher, a spokesman for the Society of B.C. Notaries, told CP.

Notaries and lawyers figure uncomfortably in the freeman movement.

Freemen consider the justice system as illegitimate but often use the courts to sue those who they see as standing in their way.

The movement is in love with jargon-filled pseudo-legal documents meant to reinforce members' position. Getting a notary stamp on these papers gives them an air of legitimacy.

"Freemen have attended law firm and ­notary offices, seeking to have their documents 'notarized," the Law Society of B.C. says in a bulletin issued last year.

"The documents have strange wordings, stamps, blood and finger seals, UCC (uniform commercial code) and biblical references and the like. They are usually pseudo-legal and completely unlike any legal document that a lawyer or notary would draw or witness.

Some adherents have paid thousands of dollars to attend seminars to learn how to declare themselves "natural persons" and supposedly become exempt from paying taxes. Clifford Dean of Manitoba is the latest guru, CP reported, drawing 80 people to a seminar in Victoria last June and planning another for Toronto in November.

[ Related: Ontario judge chides man representing himself in court but acquits him of assaulting cops ]

The law society, which says the freeman movement may have as many as 30,000 Canadian adherents, sees them as a potential security threat.

"Since one of the tenets of the Freeman-on-the-Land movement is an unrestricted right to possess and use firearms, they raise significant safety and security concerns," the bulletin says.

"They have been known to become angry when lawyers or notaries have refused to notarize their documents or when stopped by police officers."

RCMP spokeswoman Julie Gagnon told CP via email the force is aware of the potential for confrontation.

"Individuals associated to this movement are a concern because some followers advocate violence to promote their views and this may involve violence towards police offices," Gagnon said. "There are officer-safety concerns when dealing with followers of this movement during routine police interaction."

But Alexander denies the freemen are dangerous.

“Yes, there has been the odd person here and there that has actually fought back and done some stupid things, but those are individuals," Alexander, who despite his beliefs has run for political office under the freeman banner, told CP.

"And to paint all Freemen as terrorists, it would be the same as painting all Frenchmen FLQ or all Germans Nazis. It’s kind of ridiculous."