I fought the law…and the law won


The Freeman-on-the-Land (“FOTL”) movement is not new. Over the past five years there has been a growing number of legal cases involving or launched by FOTL subscribers across Canada. Our awareness of this movement continues to grow. And yet, the FOTL ideology still clogs our courts, wreaks havoc on our legal system, and it can have profound impacts on people associated with FOTL litigation. Both the FBI and CSIS have declared the FOTL to be domestic terror threats.

 

This past week, Edmonton police, in a precedent-setting move, charged Mr. Allen Boisjoli, 45, of Vegreville, Alberta, under s. 423.1(1) of the Criminal Code (which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years), with intimidating a peace officer by filing a flood of documents in court, which has also been dubbed “paper terrorism.”

Police have charged people who act on FOTL ideas or techniques before, and for intimidating a peace officer, but that the intimidation charge is based on the accused’s use of “paper terrorism”, a well-used FOTL technique, is a novel development.

 

People have used OPCA techniques to try to avoid paying debts or fulfilling contracts, to sue for policy changes, and to defend themselves against criminal charges or minor infractions, amongst others.

 

First, what exactly is the FOTL movement? In 2012, Associate Chief Justice John D. Rooke of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench wrote the seminal – and ground-breaking – 185-page decision on FOTL litigation, Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571. Mr. and Mrs. Meads separated after a long marriage and having multiple children together. Mrs. Meads brought Mr. Meads to court to finalize their separation, as people tend to do in similar situations. Mr. Meads represented himself and alleged many of the tenets of the FOTL movement, including that the court lacked jurisdiction over him, that the Bank of Canada kept a secret bank account in his name, and that “man’s law”, including laws about support payments, did not apply to him. Instead of referring specifically to the FOTL movement, which has the potential of being highly charged and over-inclusive, Justice Rooke referenced cases that employ “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Arguments (“OPCA”).

 

people from all walks of life –educated, not educated, rich, poor – can be, and have been, attracted to its false beliefs.

 

Trends in typical OPCA litigation include:

Assertions that all statute law is contractual in nature;

That individuals may only be governed by statute law if they specifically consent;

That individuals may withhold their consent to be governed by statute law and, if they do, they are not subject to the government’s jurisdiction; and,

Discussions of dual or split personas, such as that the legal person may be bound by debts and obligations but not the physical

 

Common strategies in OPCA litigation include:

Exceptionally high volumes of paper filings;

Filings are often nonsensical and yet use enough legal jargon to confuse and disrupt the legal system; and,

Filing liens against persons named in the litigation and/or their personal property.

 

People have used OPCA techniques to try to avoid paying debts or fulfilling contracts, to sue for policy changes, and to defend themselves against criminal charges or minor infractions, amongst others.

 

It’s a false promise, but it has proven to be an enticing one.

 

Justice Rooke’s reasons, which are well structured, thorough, and provide a clear picture of what constitutes OPCA litigation, dismiss Mr. Meads’ claims for showing “legal and intellectual bankruptcy.”

The stunning and surprising aspect of OPCA litigation is that people from all walks of life – educated, not educated, rich, poor – can be, and have been, attracted to its false beliefs. There is something eloquent and simple in the “legal alchemy” offered by FOTL or OPCA leaders (who are generally known as “gurus”): it often provides a full answer to a person’s problem, materials are available on a self-help basis, and the person seemingly has a chance to fully regain control of his or her life. It’s a false promise, but it has proven to be an enticing one.

What’s the worst a person could face for launching OPCA of FOTL litigation? To date, one of the highest penalties, going typically to the more disruptive OPCA litigants, has tended to be a declaration by the courts that the litigant is vexatious. This may be accompanied by restrictions on what matters the litigant may bring to court going forward. Even in less serious cases of OPCA litigation, though, there can be serious consequences – to the courts, to the subjects of the litigation, and to OPCA litigants. For example, the courts must struggle to make sense of the litigation materials – no judge will want to dismiss a matter that could have some real (and legal) basis. The victims of the litigation endure what often turns out to be frivolous litigation but, in many cases, must nevertheless hire legal counsel to defend themselves, face serious hits to their credit ratings, and endure being served a flood of pseudo-legal filings, akin to harassment. The OPCA litigants, on the other hand, rarely – if ever – are successful with their cases and, more often than not, judges will order them to pay part of – or, sometimes, all – the court costs for the other litigant.

 

Mr. Boisjoli is a perfect storm of an OPCA litigant. He was declared a vexatious litigant almost a year ago and the court restricted the matters he could bring, though that does not seem to have stopped him from trying. He appears to be well known within the Alberta courts.

The background for this case comes from May 2015 when a police officer stopped Mr. Boisjoli outside of Edmonton. He had been driving 105km/h in an 80km/h zone. Mr. Boisjoli videotaped the encounter (itself not a crime) and posted the video to YouTube. The officer said he had been speeding, Mr. Boisjoli said he didn’t know that was and explained he did not recognize the officer’s authority. The officer issued a speeding ticket. And Mr. Boisjoli proceeded to launch a number of legal matters against the officer, claiming, for example that the officer owed him $225,000 for detaining him and more for issuing the ticket. He attempted to file a lien against the police officer’s personal property.

It seems that the arsenal of tricks to prevent OPCA litigation has been ineffective. The move by the Edmonton police to charge Mr. Boisjoli with “intimidation of a justice system participant or journalist” represents an important step in showing our distaste – and intolerance – of this form of vexatious litigation. The penalties for engaging in OPCA litigation have increased and now can include criminal charges with potentially very serious outcomes, even where litigants file “only paper”.

 

The allure of this form of litigation surely cannot outweigh its significant costs; if you’re in trouble, do what you can to hire a lawyer and don’t be duped by a FOTL guru.

 


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About Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy graduated with honours in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario in 2004. He then completed a Master’s degree in International Relations in 2007, finished his law degree at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall in 2010 and was called to the Bar in 2011. Daniel practiced as an Assistant Crown Attorney from 2010-2012 in Newfoundland and Labrador. Daniel currently works in association with the Toronto-based firm Ted Yoannou & Associates