The Courts are taking a bold stand.
In a decision that will no doubt have significant ramifications for businesses, governments, and the litigation bar across Canada, Associate Chief Justice Rooke of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has addressed a vexatious group of litigants who have plagued the Canadian legal system for over a decade.
The Court has named this troubling group the Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants, or OPCA litigants for short. To some, OPCA litigants may be better known by various labels such as Detaxers, Freemen-on-the-Land, Sovereign Citizens, and many others. It is likely that numerous businesses—particularly large corporations and public utility companies—have dealt with OPCA individuals in some manner without recognizing it, even outside of the litigation process. OPCA litigants are known for refusing to recognize bills, debts, tax assessments, or any legal obligations for that matter. They frequently disrupt court proceedings in an attempt to frustrate the legal rights of corporations, governments, and individuals, adding significantly to the costs of enforcement. They have been active not only in Canada, but also in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Although their arguments have been universally dismissed when presented in Court, OPCA litigants have never been effectively recognized as a defined or collective group warranting a coordinated response.
That is, until now.
Justice Rooke's comprehensive 188-page judgment in Meads v Meads, 2012 ABQB 571, appears to be the first decision anywhere in the Common Law realm to thoroughly examine, catalogue, and deconstruct nearly every known OPCA strategy. The case also references a vast collection of legal authorities upon which lawyers and judges may rely in future for proceedings involving OPCA litigants. The decision provides a universal "go-to" authority to assist in the effective dismissal of OPCA claims at an early stage in the proceedings. Finally, it also gives lawyers a powerful arsenal of procedural remedies to use in order to protect parties against the typically high costs of having to defend against an OPCA argument.
Who They Are
OPCA litigants appear to come from all walks of life. They appear to span the spectrums of socioeconomic standing, political ideology, and even age. Some turn to OPCA strategies in desperation, facing foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce, or deportation, while others are likely pure opportunists. The Meads case was about the consequences of a simple divorce, but, in contrast, Hollywood actor Wesley Snipes used OPCA arguments during a tax evasion case and is currently serving a three-year prison sentence in that regard.
OPCA litigants simply do not fit neatly into any particular demographic classification. This is partly why, historically, it has been difficult for the Courts to identify them as one organized group.
What They Argue
As different as they may be from each other demographically, OPCA litigants reveal obvious and subtle similarities in what they advocate. As Justice Rooke describes it in his decision, their efforts are concentrated on finding the proverbial "Gotcha!" exception or loophole that they can spring to defeat state and Court authority. They believe that if one performs a pseudolegal magic spell just right, for example, one will be able to escape debt collectors, taxes, and even criminal charges. The only ideology that unifies these litigants is a belief that they should be immune from legal obligations when such immunity suits them.
Because OPCA magic spells tend to be promoted and distributed for profit by various OPCA "gurus", OPCA litigants often employ a certain script marked by a characteristic set of strategies. OPCA documents are almost invariably full of confusing but irrelevant legalese citing obsolete, foreign, and irrelevant sources, such as the Magna Carta, the Uniform Commercial Code, or even the King James Bible. OPCA litigants also often focus on specific but irrelevant formalities which they assert are significant. For example, OPCA documents may include a red thumbprint (sometimes in blood), multiple signatures in red or green ink, and postage stamps with text or a signature written across them. OPCA litigants may also use peculiar delivery phrases, postal codes, and spellings of their names; they may also refer to themselves as flesh and blood men, sovereign men, a postmaster general, or some other odd moniker. Finally, OPCA litigants are often characterized by bizarre and repetitive in-court conduct, such as continuously uttering rehearsed phrases. This is, of course, nothing more than the following of a script.
The following is a select sample of some OPCA arguments. A typical OPCA submission will usually incorporate several OPCA arguments and indicia.
The Law Does Not Apply To Me
This is the largest and the most common group of OPCA arguments. As colourful and exotic as they sound, all arguments in this group invariably suggest that the OPCA litigant's legal obligations cannot be enforced because he or she is somehow rendered immune from state and Court jurisdiction. An OPCA litigant may argue:
- That the jurisdiction of the Court is restricted to certain domains, and that he or she is outside these categories,
- That the Courts or the state have lost their power due to some defect, or
- That the OPCA litigant is somehow immunized from the effects of Court and state actions.
Examples of these arguments include the following:
Restricted Court Jurisdiction
- Canada's motto, "A Mari Usque Ad Mari", on the Coat of Arms in the courtroom indicates that the Court is an admiralty Court that has no jurisdiction on land;
- A Canadian flag with yellow or gold thread fringes inside a courtroom denotes a military Court that has no jurisdiction in civilian matters;
- Notaries Public are the real judges who can override the Courts;
- Religious law trumps statutory and judge-made law; for instance, OPCA litigants have argued that there is a "God given right" to travel on public roads that trumps legislation.
Defective Court and State Authority
- There is a defect in the judge's oath that takes away his or her jurisdiction;
- A judge who is not gowned has no jurisdiction;
- Only a witness sworn-in on the King James Bible can give evidence;
- A judge exiting the courtroom abandons his jurisdiction, which the litigant can seize and declare himself the winner;
- An amendment to legislation invalidates it because legislation is no longer fixed, certain, and accessible;
- Defects in the 1948 version of the Income Tax Act invalidate all subsequent tax legislation;
- Defects in the 1931 Statute of Westminster invalidate all subsequent Governor General appointments and the legislation they gave Royal Assent to;
- A defect in Queen Elizabeth II's coronation oath invalidates all legislation; and
- Particularly bizarre, one has an unconditional duty to refuse to pay tax because Canada produces uranium and thereby assists in the production of thermonuclear weapons that may be used to commit mass murder.
Immunity from Court's Jurisdiction
- Only corporations, and not human beings, are subject to Canadian law;
- A person is immune because of an association with some foreign nation-state;
Persons in this group will often manufacture their own national identification cards and license plates. The Moorish law movement certainly falls into this group. The most exotic form of this argument may be that the present-day territory of North America is actually called Atlan, Amexem, Turtle Island, Land of Frogs and belongs to the At-sik-hata Nation of Yamassee Moors by way of an ancient treaty. Self-proclaimed members of the At-sik-hata Nation purport to deny the jurisdiction of the governments of the Americas over themselves and establish themselves as sovereign entities. In effect, they say they own all of Canada.
- A person can declare himself or herself immune from state and Court authority; Sovereign Men and Freemen-on-the-Land frequently advance this type of argument;
- A person is only subject to common law, which is usually some medieval form of English law, such as the Magna Carta;
- One can add atypical punctuation into his or her name (e.g., First Name-Middle Name: Last Name), or use an entirely different name (e.g., Mythlim-Axkw), and then claim that the documents containing his/her legal name relate to someone else;
- A person can split himself into a flesh-and-blood living person and a non-corporeal legal strawman, and offload all their legal obligations onto the latter;
These OPCA litigants will often claim that only a name spelled in one of the peculiar ways shown above refers to their flesh-and-blood part that owns all their assets. A name spelled in capital letters (as is often done in contracts and Court documents), on the other hand, refers to their legal strawman who carries all their debts. They will then claim that a court has no jurisdiction over them, because the person identified in the contract or court documents in capital letters is their strawman.
In one case, an OPCA litigant financed a $145,000 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and then had his legal strawman transfer the vehicle to his "flesh-and-blood" part, while continuing to carry the debt. He then refused to repay his loan, claiming it was owed by his strawman who was another legal person. His argument was dismissed and he was sentenced to five days' imprisonment for contempt of Court.
- Finally, one litigant argued she was immune from licensing, registration, and insurance requirements under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act because she was a Minister of the Church of Ecumenical Redemption International and her 1994 Mercury Sable was her "ecclesiastical pursuit chariot".
Obligation Requires Agreement
A second popular OPCA argument is that all legally enforceable rights require that a person agree to be subject to those obligations. Proponents of this argument also believe that every interaction with the state—including compliance with legislation—is a form of contract that one can opt-out of. As a result, a person can become immune if they simply say they have not consented to be subject to the law and the Courts. This argument is typical of the Freemen-on-the-Land group.
OPCA litigants employing this argument may be particularly difficult to deal with, as they attempt to avoid any action they fear might create a contract or acknowledge consent. They may, for example, refuse to advance past the bar or identify themselves in a courtroom because that would establish their consent to Court jurisdiction.
As varied as all these arguments are, they share one common feature: they all purport to somehow deny state and Court authority. That is the very essence of the OPCA litigants' position. As Justice Rooke states: "they will only honour state, regulatory, contract, family, fiduciary, equitable, and criminal obligations if they feel like it. And typically, they don't."
After an extensive review of the Court's inherent jurisdiction and case law rejecting each of the above propositions, Justice Rooke held that any scheme claiming that a person can possess or acquire a status that allows him or her to ignore Court authority is incorrect in law. He ruled that a defence with that basis may be struck without further analysis.
Money for Nothing
This type of argument is distinct from those above in that it does not challenge the legal system, but instead purports to provide a magic, pseudolegal mechanism for obtaining unconventional benefits. The most popular of money-for-nothing arguments is the so-called Accepted for Value (A4V) scheme. This scheme claims that, at birth, each person is assigned a secret government bank account which contains millions of dollars. The governments maintain these bank accounts to monetize the state after it abandoned the gold standard, holding the person as collateral to secure its currency. The A4V scheme claims that, with a correct combination of words and coloured writing, a person can access their secret bank account to discharge nearly any obligation.
Telltale signs of A4V schemes include language such as "accept for value" and "return for value" and references to the UCC, the gold standard, and the litigant's birth certificate. The accepted-for-value language may also appear as part of a stamp, typically in red ink, applied at a 45-degree angle. OPCA litigants will often attempt to pay their bills by writing "accepted for value" on them, in an apparent belief that this turns the bill into a cheque drawn on their secret bank account. Naturally, Justice Rooke held that the A4V argument is completely meaningless.
The last type of OPCA arguments goes one step further. Instead of renouncing the legal system, it actually attempts to exploit it to unilaterally create extravagant legal obligations for the benefit of an OPCA litigant. OPCA litigants using this strategy will typically present someone with an agreement that, if not refuted, would purportedly create extraordinary binding obligations. Common examples of these foisted agreements attempt to appoint someone a fiduciary, discharge or assign an obligation, or end a lawsuit. For example, an OPCA litigant may serve the opposing party an agreement titled "Admission of Facts – Non-negotiable" that purportedly, if not refuted, would mean that the opposing party had admitted key facts that would effectively decide the lawsuit. An OPCA litigant may also serve a judge or a state actor with a demand to prove their authority, which, if not replied to, will result in loss of jurisdiction.
Though they may appear to be the most law-abiding group—after all, they at least recognize the legal system—this type of OPCA litigants tends to generate the most nuisance. They will frequently register liens against the property of their targets, in an attempt to enforce their unilateral "agreement." They will also present their opponents with "fee schedules" purporting to impose exorbitant penalties any time the opponent does something the OPCA litigant does not like. For example, Mr. Meads' fee schedule demanded that Justice Rooke pay $2,000,000.00, in gold or silver, any time he chooses to dismiss one of Mr. Meads' OPCA arguments. Of course, Justice Rooke held that foisted agreements of this kind are not binding.
One last point warrants discussion. In Meads, Justice Rooke specifically acknowledges that the vast majority of the OPCA arguments and indicia discussed above are almost never shared by other self-represented litigants, including those with linguistic, cognitive, and psychological difficulties. Thus, if counsel encounters any of the above arguments, it is all but safe to assume that one is dealing with an OPCA argument where Meads will apply.
Significance of the Decision
For Business and Government
Although Meads primarily focuses on the OPCA activities within the Court system, businesses and governments may benefit from Justice Rooke's decision in several ways.
First, the decision highlights that certain OPCA litigants often resort to threats, and in some cases violence directed at court personnel, judges, and other parties. This is particularly true for the Freemen-on-the-Land group: in one case, two American freemen gunned down two police officers with AK-47 assault rifles in response to a routine traffic stop. In fact, the FBI classifies the Sovereign Men as a domestic terrorist movement. A business — especially one routinely dealing with the general public — can take steps to train their staff to recognize these individuals and take additional security precautions. In fact, this is what Justice Rooke expressly recommends the Courts should do.
Second, Meads provides definitive authority with which to counter OPCA arguments. OPCA litigants have had some success in using threatening legalese and A4V schemes to intimidate accounts receivable clerks into crediting their utility accounts. That is understandable. A person who receives a threatening document filled with complex pseudolegal language in response to a $300 invoice may rationally decide that it is cheaper to credit the amount than to engage legal counsel to review the document. With Meads in hand, businesses may effectively recognize telltale signs of OPCA documents and safely reject them without further consideration. They may also train their employees to do the same.
For the Litigation Bar
In Meads, Justice Rooke indicates that the Courts are now live to the existence of the OPCA phenomenon and rejects each and every OPCA scheme as inherently frivolous and vexatious. The decision has been widely circulated around the Alberta bench and has been shared with other Canadian jurisdictions. A lawyer who encounters any of the above arguments may now simply pull out the Meads decision and request that an OPCA claim or defence be struck as being frivolous and vexatious without further submissions. The judgment expressly directs counsel to structure their pre-trial steps and arguments bearing in mind the Courts' awareness of the OPCA movement.
Having determined that OPCA strategies are "little more than scams that abuse legal process", Justice Rooke held that a strict approach is appropriate when the Court responds to OPCA litigants. The decision provides a number of powerful procedural remedies and expressly instructs lawyers to pursue these remedies to minimize harm to their clients. A lawyer who encounters a claim or a defence based on an OPCA concept may now request:
- Costs on a full indemnity or solicitor and own client basis;
- Security for costs;
- Punitive and aggravated damages (especially in the case of foisted agreements);
NOTE: punitive and aggravated damages must be specifically sought by counsel.
- That the OPCA litigant be found in contempt of Court (not applicable to money-for-nothing arguments);
- That the OPCA litigant be declared a vexatious litigant pursuant to s. 23.1 of the Judicature Act.
Indeed, Justice Rooke suggests that most OPCA strategies potentially meet the threshold for these remedies, especially the costs and contempt remedies. He also indicates that serving a lawyer with a fee schedule containing exorbitant penalties may be enough to charge an OPCA litigant with the Offence of intimidating a justice system participant under s. 423.1 of the Criminal Code.
Finally, given the weight OPCA litigants place on notarization of documents, Justice Rooke suggests that a lawyer, as an officer of the Court, has a positive duty to refuse engaging a step that would formalize an OPCA document, such as notarizing it.
The decision in Meads should represent a watershed event for the litigation practice in Canada. It appears that for the first time anywhere in the Common Law realm, a Court of superior jurisdiction has recognized the disparate OPCA litigants and movements as a unified group warranting a coordinated response. Justice Rooke's decision not only addresses and deconstructs nearly every known OPCA strategy, it also pre-emptively explains why future OPCA strategies cannot succeed in the face of the Court's inherent jurisdiction. The decision will be helpful and instructive reading for judges, lawyers, and business persons across the country and it will become, and will likely remain, a valuable resource and a universal tool to assist in combating the OPCA threat for years to come.