The freeman on the land movement, also known as the freemen of the land (sometimes spelled freeman-on-the-land or abbreviated as FOTL), the freemen movement, or simply freemen, is a loose group of individuals who believe that they are bound by statute laws only if they consent to those laws. They believe that they can therefore declare themselves independent of the government and the rule of law, holding that the only "true" law is their own idiosyncratic interpretation of "common law". The freeman on the land movement also advocates schemes to avoid taxes which it considers to be illegitimate.
Freemen on the land are mostly present in Commonwealth countries. The movement originally appeared in Canada as an offshoot of the sovereign citizen movement, which is more prevalent in the United States. Besides Canada, freemen on the land's pseudolegal claims have been argued in the courts of Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland but have always been rejected.
There is some cross-over between the two groups which call themselves Freemen and Sovereign Citizens (and some others). The origins of both lie in the radical and racist anti-government movements in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, with the ideas garnering more support during the American farm crisis of the late 1970s and 1980s and a financial crisis in both the US and Canada in the same period.
With the advent of the Internet and continuing during the 21st century, people throughout the English-speaking world who share the core beliefs of these movements (which may be loosely defined as "see[ing] the state as a corporation with no authority over free citizens") have been able to connect and share their beliefs.
The pseudolegal ideas originated with the Sovereign Citizen movement in the United States began to be used in Canada by the Freeman on the Land movement around the turn of the 21st century. By the late 2000s they had also started to spread to Freeman groups in the UK and other Commonwealth countries, and to various groups in Europe.
In 1937, R. Rogers Smith published Alberta has the Sovereign Right to Issue and Use Its Own Credit, which argued that the British North America Act and the Statute of Westminster 1931 did not make Canada an independent nation, but left it a British dependency, and that the constitutional division of powers between the Canadian federal government and provincial governments was not defined. In 1945, Walter Frederick Kuhl MP delivered a speech in the House of Commons of Canada in which he argued, based on Smith's theories, that the Canadian constitution was defective and needed to be amended.
In the 1950s, Gerrald Hart, an electronics shopkeeper from Winnipeg, engaged in anti-tax efforts that included submitting tax returns that rejected liability instead of correctly reporting his shop's tax liabilities. In The Queen v. Hart Electronics Limited, Hart was charged with failure to file a tax return. The Manitoba Court of Appeal acquitted Hart, ruling that his unsigned, unusual tax return was still a tax return, and refused to consider whether the tax return was adequate. Hart also claimed that the Supreme Court ruling in Nova Scotia (Attorney General) v. Canada (Attorney General) (1951) SCR 31 meant that income tax acts passed by the Canadian government since 1971 were unconstitutional. He published the Hart System of Effective Tax Avoidance that described his strategies to avoid taxes.
In the early 1990s, Murray Gauvreau worked with social credit group Pilgrims of Saint Michael to promote tax protester strategies based on Hart's System of Effective Tax Avoidance via the organisation's Michael journal. Gauvreau's arguments, based on filing defective tax returns, as well as constitutional arguments based on the division of powers, were rejected by the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta.
In the 1980s and the 1990s, fiscal misconception conspiracy theories similar to those found in American tax protester movements were also adopted by Canadian tax protester groups. In 1999, arguments based on the constitutional division of powers, earlier used by Hart and Gauvreau, were further developed by Robert A. Marquis in his book Fraud, Deception, Manipulation, but failed to mention that these arguments had already been rejected by Canadian courts.
Around 1998, Canadian pilot Eldon Gerald Warman, who had been exposed to American pseudo-legal concepts, promoted ideas adapted from the American sovereign citizen movement in Canada through his Detax Canada website and the organization of seminars. He claimed to be subject only to "common law", referring not to modern case law, but to historical English case law. He credited as his mentor American activist Roger Elvick, who had founded the redemption movement in the United States; the redemption movement adhered to the strawman theory, which is based on the assertion that state legislative authority only extends to an individual's legal person, and not to their natural person. Warman claimed that whereas in the United States, an individual's Social Security Number was used to attach this "strawman" to a natural person, in Canada, this was done using a birth certificate. Around 2000, Warman also worked with Ernst Friedrich Kyburz and Sikander Abdulali "Alex" Muljiani to promote anti-tax ideas based on the sovereign citizen movement's beliefs, at joint seminars across Canada. He also used misinterpretations of Canadian case law to justify unrestricted automobile use.
Warman asserted that government authority over an individual arises from a contract, that statute law cannot be used to impose on a person a contract that deprives the individual of property rights and freedom to travel, and that individual rights and liberties derived from Anglo-Saxon common law, as well as Magna Carta. He instructed his followers to use disclaimers in income tax returns, to reject correspondence from the Canada Revenue Agency and to refrain from citing the Constitution of Canada in court, to avoid entering into an assumpsit contract. He asked them instead to deny the "strawman", claim "common law" jurisdiction, and otherwise claim the right to silence. Warman also used pre-Detaxer arguments to assert that the Canadian constitution was defective, and proposed a new constitutional document, the Magna Carta Kanata. However, he criticised other pre-Detaxer strategies and suggested that they were secretly sponsored by the Canada Revenue Agency itself.
In 1999, after he was charged with assaulting a police officer, Warman attempted to use these pseudo-legal arguments to assert that the Provincial Court of British Columbia did not have jurisdiction over him in R v Warman (2000) BCPC 0022. On denying Warman's appeal, the British Columbia Court of Appeal noted that his arguments were based on a rejection of state and judicial authority.
Warman, who died in 2017, was emulated by several other "gurus", including Russell Porisky of the Paradigm Education Group. Porisky's concept was that people could avoid paying taxes by declaring themselves a "natural person" rather than taxpayers. He was first convicted of tax evasion in 2012. In 2016, he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison and ordered to pay 259,482 Canadian dollars in fines for tax evasion and for having counselled others to commit fraud.
The Detaxer movement went through a decline and appears to have disappeared. Its latest proponent has been serial litigant David Kevin Lindsay, who unsuccessfully argued before the Supreme Court of British Columbia that he should not be paying taxes because he was not a "person" as defined by the Income Tax Act but "a full liability free will flesh and blood living man". In 2016, Lindsay complained that Canadian pseudolaw affiliates and gurus had become too influenced by US concepts.
The Freeman on the land movement in Canada originated with one single key "guru", Robert Arthur Menard. A former construction worker and stand-up comic, Menard entered pseudolaw as a student of Detaxer theories, which he later espoused on the Internet, using online forums such as "Cannabis culture", videos and freely distributed electronic books. Menard started being involved in pseudolaw around 2000, as he was having a dispute with child welfare authorities over access to and custody of the child of a teenaged partner. Menard's guru activity initially focused on how birth documentation allegedly allows the state to control children. He later expanded his claims, asserting that he could immunize people from Canadian law as a whole. Menard used the phrase "Freeloader-on-the-Land" to describe how people could ignore their social and legal obligations while still benefiting from Canadian services and infrastructures.
Menard showed little conceptual innovation, and merely used simplified versions of Detaxer theories which he restated as fact. However, his skillful use of social media helped him gain more followers than Warman. The notable difference between the Detaxer and Freemen on the land populations is that the latter shows a politically leftist orientation, open to environmentalism, anti-globalization concepts and marijuana advocacy. Freeman on the land ideology developed in Canada mostly as a criminal culture: most of its courtroom applications were aimed to legitimise illegal activities. Variations by other gurus may also include New Age concepts.
Since 2010, the Freeman on the land movement has declined in Canada due to the persistent failure of its concepts in court. Menard largely withdrew from the scene and newer "gurus" have met with little success. The Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta's 2012 Meads v. Meads decision, which refuted in detail Freeman on the land and other pseudolegal theories, has since been used as case law against pseudolegal tactics by courts in Canada as well as in other Commonwealth countries.
Freeman on the land ideology reached the United Kingdom in the late 2000s. Use of pseudolaw in the UK is difficult to evaluate, but there is clear evidence of an active community using concepts mostly derived from Canadian Freeman on the Land sources. Unlike Canadian freemen who primarily use pseudolaw to justify illegal activity, UK litigants mostly focus on economic reasons, such as avoiding Council Tax, motor vehicle registration and insurance, television licence fees, mortgages, and other debts. In 2016, billboards in the UK advertised the freeman on the land concept of "legal name fraud", a variation of the strawman theory claiming that "all legal names are owned by the Crown, and therefore using a legal name without their written permission is fraud".
In the Republic of Ireland, where freeman on the land tactics were imported roughly at the same time as in the United Kingdom, local gurus have created Ireland-specific motifs of defective state authority, citing the Constitution of Ireland and presenting Brehon law, rather than English common law, as the true source of legislation. The expansion of pseudolegal "freeman" activity in Ireland was fostered by a period of economic difficulties in the late 2000s, following the burst of a real-estate bubble which led people to seek remedies for their financial woes.
Australia has a tradition of pseudolaw, dating back to the 1980s and sovereign citizen concepts were imported into Australia during the 1990s. Local gurus have been using Australia-specific concepts ; however, Australian pseudolaw litigants may also identify as freemen on the land or use Canadian-style freeman documents. There have been several court cases testing the core concept, none successful for the "freemen". Local freeman on the land activists have made particular efforts to appeal to Indigenous Australians.
Unlike Australia, New Zealand has not developed local concepts, even though many New Zealander pseudolaw litigants are Maori who base their claims on their ethnic status. Pseudolegal documents in New Zealand have shown influence from multiple foreign sources, including Canadian freemen on the land ideology.
A number of anti-state movements with similar tactics but different ideologies may receive the label "Freeman-on-the-Land".
Robert Arthur Menard, the originator of the movement, was called the "Director of Freemen on the Land", though he likened the movement to "a voluntary relay race" and said that it was "way too unorganized to have a hierarchical structure". Canadian legal scholar Donald J. Netolitzky commented that the "freeman" population had an "amorphous" character and was "less an organization or “movement” than a collection of individuals who hold powerful anti-authority beliefs".
An article published by The Journal of Intelligence, Conflict, and Warfare identified nine classes of adherents of Freeman-on-the-Land and similar anti-authority groups in Canada:
Associate Justice John D. Rooke, in his 2012 Meads v. Meads decision, describes the freeman on the land movement as having "libertarian and right wing overtones". In a 2019 article of the Alberta Law Review, Donald J. Netolitzky disagrees with this assessment, which he considers a confusion between the freeman on the land and sovereign citizen movements: according to Netolitzky, a sociological study has shown that, while very hostile to state and institutional actors, the freeman on the land population is predominately left leaning. He adds, however, that freemen on the land are ideologically heterogeneous and that there is a "broad overlap" between their beliefs and those of the sovereign citizens, which leads to confusion between the two.
In Australia, there is some cross-over between groups which call themselves freemen on the land and sovereign citizens (and some others). In 2015, the New South Wales Police Force identified "sovereign citizens" as a potential terrorist threat, estimating that there were about 300 sovereign citizens in the state at the time. Sovereign citizens from the US have undertaken speaking tours to New Zealand and Australia, with some support among farmers struggling with drought and other hardships. A group called United Rights Australia (U R Australia) has a Facebook presence, and there are other websites promulgating Freemen/Sovereign Citizen ideas.
From the 2010s, there has been a growing number of Freemen targeting Indigenous Australians, with groups with names like Tribal Sovereign Parliament of Gondwana Land, the Original Sovereign Tribal Federation (OSTF) and the Original Sovereign Confederation. OSTF Founder Mark McMurtrie, an Aboriginal Australian man, has produced YouTube videos speaking about “common law”, which incorporate Freemen beliefs. Appealing to other Aboriginal people by partly identifying with the land rights movement, McMurtrie played on their feelings of alienation and lack of trust in the systems which had not served Indigenous people well.
In the United Kingdom, freeman on the land ideology has influenced The People's United Community (TPUC), a group created in 2007 to oppose taxation, European integration and the Conservative government. TPUC espoused one UK-specific concept of defective state authority, called "lawful rebellion", namely that a freeman could write the Queen and invoke Clause 61 of the Magna Carta to negate Royal (and, by extension, government) authority. However, Clause 61 empowers 25 Barons to restrict the monarch, and does not concern the general public nor mention "lawful rebellion". Freeman ideas also spilled into the UK Occupy movement.
In the Republic of Ireland, the Tir na Saor website, which operated from 2009 to 2016, was a major hub for the Irish pseudolaw community and showed clear Canadian freeman influences. The most unusual development of freeman ideology in Ireland was the creation of a political party, Direct Democracy Ireland, created in 2010 by anti-foreclosure activist and serial litigant Ben Gilroy. Direct Democracy Ireland did poorly at elections and the Irish freeman on the land movement eventually went into decline.
Freemen on the land, like sovereign citizens, share the core beliefs commonly seen in pseudolaw. Their theories have been broadly defined as "see[ing] the state as a corporation with no authority over free citizens". Freemen's beliefs are largely based on misunderstandings and wishful thinking, and do not stand up to legal scrutiny. Freemen arguments have been rejected in the courts of various countries, including England, Wales, Canada, and Australia.
The Canadian case Meads v. Meads (see below) identified five major themes in the Freeman-on the-Land belief systems:
A number of arguments are employed to claim immunity from law. These arguments are described in Meads v. Meads as "magic hats", as a reference to the fact that many pseudolegal tactics resemble magic rituals more than actual law.
Many freemen beliefs are based on idiosyncratic interpretations of admiralty or maritime law, which the freemen claim govern the commercial world. These beliefs stem from fringe interpretations of various nautical-sounding terms, such as ownership, citizenship, dock, or birth (berth) certificate. Freemen refer to the court as a ship and the court's occupants as passengers, and may claim that those leaving are "men overboard".
Freemen will try to claim common law (as opposed to admiralty law) jurisdiction by asking "Do you have a claim against me?" This, they contend, removes their consent to be governed by admiralty law and turns the court into a common law court, so that proceedings would have to go forward according to their version of common law. This procedure has never been successfully used.
Freemen will often not accept legal representation, believing that to do so would mean contracting with the state. They believe that the United Kingdom and Canada are now operating in bankruptcy and are therefore under admiralty law. They believe that since the abolition of the gold standard, UK currency is backed not by gold but by the people (or the "legal fiction of their persons"). They describe persons as creditors of the UK corporation. Therefore, a court is a place of business, and a summons is an invitation to discuss the matter at hand, with no powers to require attendance or compliance. They may believe that the government controls secret bank accounts in their name as part of this theory, which may be accessed to pay off debts.
Freemen believe that statute law is a contract, and that individuals can therefore opt out of statute law, choosing instead to live under what they call "common" (case) and "natural" laws. They believe natural laws require only that individuals do not harm others, do not damage the property of others, and do not use "fraud or mischief" in contracts. Freemen believe that since they exist in a common law jurisdiction where equality is paramount and mandatory, the people in the government and courts are not above the law, and that government and court personnel therefore must obtain the consent of the governed. Freemen believe that government employees who do not obtain consent of the governed have abandoned the rule of law. They believe this consent is routinely secured by way of people submitting applications and through acts of registration. They believe the public servants have deceived the population into abandoning their status as freemen in exchange for the status of a "child of the province" or "ward of the state", allowing those children to collect benefits such as welfare, unemployment insurance, and pension plans or old age security.
Freemen believe that the government has to establish "joinder" to link oneself and one's legal person. If one is asked whether one is "John Smith" and one says that is so, one has established joinder and connected the physical and human persons. The next step is to obtain consent, as they believe that statutes are merely invitations to enter a contract, and are only legally enforceable if one enters into the contract consensually. Otherwise, they believe that statute laws are not applicable. Freemen believe that the government is constantly trying to trick people into entering into a contract with them, so they often return bills, notices, summons and so on with the message "No contract—return to sender".
A "notice of understanding and intent and claim of right" is a document used by freemen to declare their sovereignty. The signed document, often notarised, is sent to the Queen and possibly other authorities such as the Prime Minister and police chiefs. It usually begins with the words "Whereas it is my understanding" and goes on to state their understanding of the law and their lack of consent to it.
Main article: Strawman theory
A common pseudolegal belief, originating in the redemption and sovereign citizen movements, is that people have two parts to their existence: their "flesh and blood" identity as individuals and their legal "person". The former is joined to the latter by the birth certificate; some freemen claim that it is entirely limited to the birth certificate. Under this theory, a "strawman" is created when a birth certificate is issued, and this strawman is the entity who is subject to statutory law. The physical self is referred to by a slightly different name, such as "John of the family Smith" instead of "John Smith".
See also: Redemption movement
An implication of the strawman theory, also derived from the concepts of the redemption movement, is that there is some government-controlled account linked to a person through the birth certificate. This aspect of the theory suggests that the value of that account can be applied to financial obligations and even criminal charges. The concept behind this scheme has sometimes been called "money for nothing".
The bluntly idiotic substance of Mr. Mead's [sic] argument explains the unnecessarily complicated manner in which it was presented. OPCA arguments are never sold to their customers as simple ideas, but instead are byzantine schemes which more closely resemble the plot of a dark fantasy novel than anything else. Latin maxims and powerful sounding language are often used. Documents are often ornamented with many strange markings and seals. Litigants engage in peculiar, ritual‑like in court conduct. All these features appear necessary for gurus to market OPCA schemes to their often desperate, ill‑informed, mentally disturbed, or legally abusive customers. This is crucial to understand the non-substance of any OPCA concept or strategy. The story and process of a OPCA scheme is not intended to impress or convince the Courts, but rather to impress the guru's customer. [emphasis in original]
In refuting each of the arguments used by Meads, Rooke concluded that "a decade of reported cases, many of which he refers to in his ruling, have failed to prove a single concept advanced by OPCA litigants".Dennis Larry Meads eventually abandoned pseudolegal strategies and retained counsel for a time. Even though the divorce was only finalized in 2017, he continued the rest of the litigation in an orderly fashion.
As of 2011[update] there was no recorded instance of freeman tactics being upheld in a court of law in the UK.
The whole process meant that a simple matter of driving without insurance took up hours of police time – and ultimately a stint behind bars after being convicted of contempt of court while defending himself. We hope this case acts as a warning that to obstruct the police and the courts is not a wise move.
See also: Far-right politics in Australia § Others
The following court cases have been based on the Freeman argument:
Lawyers and notaries in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, have been warned by their professional bodies about dealing with freemen as clients. In particular, lawyers have been advised to be careful not to stamp or notarise the pseudo-legal documents that freemen typically use, so as not to create a perception of authority for such documents.
U.S. police, both speaking personally and as official guidance, have provided advice to law enforcement on dealing with the similar sovereign citizen movement. These have noted the need for caution after a case in which two policemen were murdered by a "sovereign citizen" during a traffic stop.
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