Freeman movement grows across Canada
By Dene Moore, The Canadian Press, September 3, 2013 6:29 AM
He introduces himself as "Brian Arthur of the Alexander family," and before he'll answer any questions, he asks a reporter to declare that she is not a government employee.
He drives without a licence and does not pay income tax.
Brian Alexander is a self-proclaimed Freeman-on-the-Land and one of a growing number of Canadian followers of the so-called "sovereign citizen" or "Natural Persons" movement.
Adherents have "freed" themselves from what they see as an overbearing government that has overstepped its bounds.
"People can't afford to live and they're basically destroying society, in our view," Alexander said during a lengthy interview at his home in Kamloops, B.C. "They've created it themselves. Most of us are peaceful. We paid our taxes, we love our country and all that but when they start pushing at you, you tend to start asking questions and that's where this whole movement comes from."
Alexander says violence is not advocated and has no place in the movement, but one official who has followed the rise of the sovereign citizen movement in Canada says there have been a number of confrontations in B.C. and elsewhere during routine traffic stops or legal proceedings.
"We've seen that escalation already," said Ron Usher, of the Society of B.C. Notaries.
Notaries have found themselves embroiled as many Freemen attach inexplicable importance to having notaries authorize documents the Freemen have invented to declare their status.
"What we've seen over the last year is an increasing level of frustration, an increasing level of desperation. People just don't like the idea that someone isn't going to help them with their fantasy," Usher said, noting the society discourages its members from signing the "nonsensical" legal documents.
"They're very confrontational. We've had a number of instances now where they've needed to call police or security," Usher said.
There have been a number of "hard takedowns" by police in B.C. involving Freemen who refuse to have a driver's licence and, sometimes, automobile insurance.
The Law Society of B.C. and B.C. Notaries have both issued warnings about Freemen, which the law society said in a bulletin last year may number as many as 30,000 in Canada.
"Since one of the tenets of the Freeman-on-the-Land movement is an unrestricted right to possess and use firearms, they raise significant safety and security concerns," read the bulletin, which advises lawyers who come across Freemen to take appropriate security measures.
RCMP and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police are developing awareness materials for frontline officers, and the movement is the subject of upcoming policing seminars in Vancouver and Toronto.
"The RCMP is aware of the Freeman-on-the-Land ideology and the interaction that some police jurisdictions have had with individuals who follow this movement. Additionally, in recent years, the RCMP has received correspondence directly from followers of this movement," RCMP spokeswoman Julie Gagnon said in an email.
"Individuals associated to this movement are a concern because some followers advocate violence to promote their views and this may involve violence toward police officers. There are officer safety concerns when dealing with followers of this movement during routine police interaction."
There's no indication that they pose a threat to the general public, Gagnon said. In the United States, the FBI considers the movement a domestic terror threat, and a 2011 FBI report cited several cases where followers clashed with law enforcement, including the 2010 shootings of two Arkansas officers during a routine traffic stop.
If there is a guru of the Freeman movement in Canada these days it's a man named Dean Clifford from Manitoba. In June, about 80 people paid to hear Clifford spread the sovereign gospel at a seminar in Victoria and tickets are now available on his website to another scheduled for Toronto this November.
Alexander, 43, has become a pseudo-spokesman in B.C. after running - ironically - for provincial and municipal office under the Freeman banner.
A self-employed father of a teenage boy, he speaks emotionally about the plight soldiers have faced upon their return from Afghanistan and with frustration about the degradation of the environment. And he appears to genuinely disagree with the use of violence or threats in the name of the cause.
"Yes, there has been the odd person here and there that has actually fought back and done some stupid things, but those are individuals. And to paint all Freemen as terrorists, it would be the same as painting all Frenchmen FLQ or all Germans Nazis. It's kind of ridiculous," he said.
While in the United States the movement has a large following on the far right and among white supremacists, in Canada it has found sympathizers among First Nations, in B.C. in particular, where some have come together under the banner of the "Sovereign Squamish Government."
The Squamish group claims to distribute its own licence plates and one Ontario Freeman is recruiting his own police force with an online video appeal for the Canadian Common Corps of Peace Officers.
The sovereign citizen's campaign in Canada, however, focuses on the courts, and a quick search of court documents involving Freemen reveals a litany of cases from the East Coast to the West, ranging from the bizarre to the criminal.
"It appeals to the angry male whose life isn't working out very well," said Usher. "You get this spiral of legal mess that the only person that's benefited is the person who's taken their money for the seminar teaching them how to do all this. It looks like desperate people spending their last nickel on bad advice."
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