Canada's sovereign citizen movement growing, officials warn
Brian Alexander, of Kamloops, B.C., is seen after an interview with The Canadian Press in White Rock, B.C., on Monday August 26, 2013. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Dene Moore, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, September 2, 2013 2:50PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 2, 2013 10:51PM EDT
VANCOUVER -- 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 license 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 says 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," says Ron Usher, of the Society of B.C. Notaries.
Notaries have found themselves embroiled as many Freeman attach inexplicable importance to having notaries authorize documents the Freeman 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 says, 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 says.
There have been a number of "hard take-downs" 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," says the bulletin, which advises lawyers who come across Freemen to take appropriate security measures.
RCMP and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police officers are currently 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 the recent years, the RCMP has received correspondence directly from followers of this movement," RCMP spokeswoman Julie Gagnon says 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 says.
In the United States, the FBI considers the movement a domestic terror threat, and a 2011 FBI report cites several cases where followers have clashed with law enforcement, including the 2010 shootings of two Arkansas officers during a routine traffic stop.
"Although the sovereign-citizen movement does not always rise to violence, its members' illegal activities and past violent -- including fatal --incidents against law enforcement make it a group that should be approached with knowledge and caution," it says.
And it warns the movement will likely grow, fuelled by the recent economic downturn and the popularity of seminars being held across the country.
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 teenaged 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 says.
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.
Police officers, Crown lawyers and judges have been sued or been named in multimillion-dollar "liens" or "ecclesiastical notices" or other legal manoeuvres.
Dozens of sovereign citizens have found themselves in front of a judge facing tax evasion, contempt or criminal charges.
Last month, Warren Fischer, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in Nelson, B.C., broke down in tears in court after being convicted of tax evasion.
An adherent to Freeman philosophies and a member of the Sovereign Squamish Nation, Fischer refused for several years to pay income tax, saying he did not want his taxes to support the war overseas. He will be sentenced in October.
Last year Daren Wayne McCormick was convicted in a Nova Scotia court of uttering threats toward officers and sentenced to just over three years in a federal prison when a judge disagreed with his argument that he'd freed himself of the Criminal Code and federal gun laws.
"It appeals to the angry male whose life isn't working out very well," says 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."