In October, I posted a "Stranger than Fiction" entry about the "Sovereign Man" hoax, whereby a number of people have taken to referring to themselves as sovereign persons, or freemen on the land. The essential basis of the theory is that they believe the person who is subject to the law is a legal fiction created by the government, and that by separating themselves from this legal fiction they can live as sovereigns without needing to recognize the government's authority.
It's interesting and disturbing how these folks pick and choose what aspects of the law they respect - the entire principle is based on pseudo-legal reasoning, pretending to be rooted in interpretations of the common law, yet the end result is that they don't feel that the 'flesh and blood person' needs to pay any heed to the law.
One of the cases I discussed in the October entry involved a fellow who was jailed for 5 days for contempt of Court after failing to obey an order to return a Mercedes he hadn't paid for. (Evidently, enjoying the car was supposedly a right of the 'flesh and blood person', whereas paying for it was an obligation limited to the 'straw man' fictional person.) The car was then returned.
This demonstrates an important feature of our society and legal system: The rule of law remains, when all is said in done, rooted in force. Most people obey the law, more or less. Yeah, you do a few things that you think you'll get away with, driving a bit over the speed limit, etc., but when somebody in a position of lawful authority directly tells you to do something, you usually do it. It's that respect for authority that is essential on a large scale to have a civil society. But when somebody refuses to participate in civil society, refuses to acknowledge authority within our society, and refuses to be bound by society's laws, society retains the ability to subjugate that person by force.
I also referred to a YouTube video, involving a fellow in a Guelph courtroom challenging a JP, and refusing to acknowledge his own identity. News coverage on the topic suggested that the person was in Court fighting by-law infractions, and that after himself declaring the case dismissed (after the JP had walked out) he was convicted of the offences and fined. (The Crown considered laying charges in connection with the unlawful video recording of Court proceedings, but apparently never did so.)
This particular individual has been back in the news lately. His name is Wilfred Keith Thompson (though he rejects that name), and he's spent most of the last month in jail. My understanding of the case is pretty much entirely from coverage in the Guelph Mercury, but they've run several stories about this matter. From the coverage, it appears that his bank took possession of his home in February. (I can only speculate as to the events leading up to this, but it suggests a default on his mortgage...perhaps akin to the Mercedes case? In the ordinary course, the bank will commence litigation and obtain a "writ of possession" to take possession of the property so that they can exercise a Power of Sale to recover the amount of the mortgage. If necessary, the sheriff can enforce the writ by evicting the occupants and changing the locks.)
On March 3, Thompson and two others were charged when they were allegedly found on the property unlawfully. (Charges against the other two were later dropped.) He was denied bail. Considering the nature of the offence, this should be surprising - it's usually relatively easy to get bail, unless there's reason to think that you're a flight risk or a danger to the public. All you really need to do is promise to behave yourself, and perhaps avoid other things connected to the alleged offence (so in an assault case, you might need to agree not to contact or approach the complainant, for example), and sometimes get a surety who is able to keep an eye on you and put up a bond.
But given the antagonism that freeman adherents have towards authority, it isn't the least bit surprising that one might not be prepared to provide a recognizance to the Court, and end up getting denied bail as a consequence. In some of his Court appearances, Thompson has reportedly protested that he's been kidnapped and that the whole affair is dishonourable. In the most recent appearance, according to the Mercury, he requested an adjournment so that he could get assistance in Court from someone who is apparently a non-lawyer.
From the sounds of it, the whole thing is a bit of a gong show. Between Thompson (and his former co-defendants') obfuscation of their identities, protests regarding the Court's process, refusals to recognize the Court's jurisdiction, and a significant number of spectators, many of whom apparently subscribe to the freeman philosophy (with the result that they don't necessarily recognize the Court's jurisdiction either), there's a lot of posturing and other nonsense going on. One of the Mercury's stories indicated that the courthouse implemented additional security checks for weapons (and cameras, perhaps?).
It's prudent to be cautious. I've seen YouTube videos of mobs of 'freemen' creating significant disruption, including physical interference with officials carrying out their duties.
To be fair, I've not seen any instances of freemen going out and committing violent crimes out of the blue and claiming to be exempt to prosecution. In general, it looks like they are limited to trying to game the system, refusing to pay taxes, ignoring regulatory regimes such as mandatory auto insurance, incurring debts with no intention to pay them, and in one particularly bizarre case actually registering a spurious PPSA security against a financial institution and refusing to agree to discharge it unless the bank advanced them a significant line of credit. (Suffice it to say that the bank responded with a successful Court application to discharge the registration of the security interest.) Break and enter appears to be a bit of a new one, but under the circumstances is easy to understand. If he doesn't recognize the authority of the Court Order giving the bank possession of his house, then it just makes sense that he would break back into the property. (I'm not sure what the specific charges are. Whatever they are, if a "colour of right" defence exists, this could be messy.)
These freemen are always unsuccessful in making their pseudo-legal arguments, and often end up getting jailed for contempt or other regulatory offences. The nuisance they create, on a social level, is somewhat mitigated by the fact that these fact patterns can be pretty funny.
However, they're also dangerous, because they have convinced themselves and each other that they are right with such vigourous enthusiasm that they believe that the efforts of authorities to enforce laws against them are unjustified interferences with their rights. So they gather in mobs, absolutely convinced that they're being unlawfully accosted, all the while forcing the legal system to resort to its fundamental basis in forceful coercion. It is not difficult to imagine such an affair turning violent.
This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.