I have a Facebook friend who says he’s a “Freeman on the Land.” He posted a photo of a speeding ticket and said he didn’t have to pay it because he’s not part of our society (he’s from here and still lives here). His friends made comments claiming that they’d successfully fought tickets using this argument. None of this makes any sense to me. There’s no way this can get him out of a ticket, right? – Dana, Victoria
You can’t get out of a traffic ticket by saying that the law doesn’t apply to you – but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
“You see it all the time, often in tax cases where people want to get out of their taxes,” said Kyla Lee, a criminal lawyer in Vancouver. “These cases have been consistently dismissed by courts in Canada.”
Freemen on the Land – who go by other names, including sovereign citizens and state citizens – claim they’re immune from laws because they haven’t signed a contract with the government.
They make legal-sounding arguments that are “complete nonsense” to try to get out of traffic tickets and taxes, Lee said.
“These arguments have never worked,” Lee said.
Some even say they are their own countries.
The movement isn’t organized, and the arguments used by followers vary,
Often, they refer to older legal statutes, including the Magna Carta and the British North America Act, Lee said.
“They cite real legal statutes, but they’ll claim they say things that those laws don’t actually say,” Lee said.
Often, they’ll present courts with stacks of official-looking documents that make no legal sense, Lee said.
Last month, a Vancouver restaurant unsuccessfully tried to use the argument to defy a British Columbia public-health order to suspend indoor dining.
A notice on the restaurant’s door said it was a “common-law jurisdiction” and health inspectors would face a $100,000 trespassing fine if they tried to enter.
The restaurant was eventually shut down and the city suspended its liquor and business licences.
“Obviously, it’s not connected in any way to the reality of our legal system,” Lee said.
In a 2012 Alberta divorce case where the husband argued he was a Freeman and didn’t have to pay a settlement, the judge debunked the theory.
“The [arguments] he has advanced have no effect or meaning in Canadian law,” John Rooke, associate chief justice of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, wrote. “They offer him no rights, no indemnities and certainly not a pot of gold or silver to call his own.”
These kinds of arguments may seem harmless, but attempts to avoid the law can spin out of control.
In 2015, an Alberta man who got a speeding ticket said he didn’t recognize Canadian laws and placed a $225,000 lien on the home of the officer who wrote the ticket.
The man was charged with intimidating an officer, The charges were ultimately stayed.
In 2011, a man renting a Calgary home refused to pay rent because he was a Freeman on the Land. He changed the locks, placed a $17,000 lien on the property and claimed the home as his embassy.
In the United States, the FBI has called the movement a domestic terror threat.
Those worries spill into Canada, Lee said.
“When people make these arguments in court, it brings multiple sheriffs into courtrooms,” Lee said. “Everybody in the justice system gets their hair standing on end.”
Lee’s not surprised to see the arguments circulating among some people protesting COVID-19 restrictions.
People who don’t understand the law and are worried about losing jobs or businesses might think these arguments make sense, Lee said.
“They may be in a situation of stress and distress,” Lee said. “The people who are spreading these arguments are preying on that.”
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