An anti-government movement known as Freeman on the Land has become a “major policing problem” in B.C. and several other provinces, according to a threat assessment by Canada’s spy officials.
The report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service lists Freeman members among “domestic extremists” who associate with issue-based causes, such as environmentalism, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization and far-right racism.
Its adherents fall on both the left and right wings of the political spectrum, but “at the core” of the movement is the belief that “government operates outside of its legal jurisdiction and therefore Freeman members do not recognize the authority of national, provincial, or municipal laws, policies or regulations,” says the report, titled Canada: Biannual Update on Terrorist and Extremist Threats, which was prepared in April and released under federal access-to-information laws.
“Freeman members now constitute a major policing problem in several provinces and have occasionally engaged in acts of violence against the police,” the report states.
In various videos posted online, supporters of the Freeman movement in Canada — including outspoken advocate Robert Menard — reject any association with violent extremism and insist they are “peaceful and loving.”
Law enforcement officials are not convinced.
A national RCMP spokeswoman said Friday that the force is working with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to develop materials for front-line officers to increase their awareness and understanding of the Freeman movement and its followers.
“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,” Sgt. Julie Gagnon said in an email. “There are officer safety concerns when dealing with followers of this movement during routine police interaction.”
Last month, the Anti-Defamation League published a report that described the so-called “sovereign citizen movement” as “one of the most problematic domestic extremist movements in the United States,” attracting mostly middle-aged or older men who are financially stressed, angry at government regulation or who want “something for nothing.”
The report cited the 2010 shooting deaths of two West Memphis, Ark., police officers during a traffic stop. The suspects, a father and son who were later killed in a shootout with police, belonged to the sovereign citizen movement.
Earlier this year, a Nova Scotia jury convicted a man of uttering a threat to kill police officers and for multiple firearms offences. Court records state that Daren McCormick, a Freeman on the Land follower, told an officer that he could outdraw police and that if a police cruiser ever pulled up in his yard, he’d kill the officers. When police moved to arrest him the following day, they found him with a loaded .44-calibre revolver in a holster strapped to his hip.
McCormick asserted that the doctrines of Freeman on the Land free him from the Criminal Code, including its gun laws, and that he was free to carry a gun even to go grocery shopping, according to the records. He also claimed his right to travel highways without a licence or registration.
Last year, RCMP officials in B.C. issued a bulletin to officers urging them to be cautious when dealing with suspected Freemen because of their belief in the right to use force in defence of their land, property and family.
The bulletin said some followers may refer to themselves using the phrase “of the family,” such as “John of the Family Smith,” or claim to be a “Son of God.”
They also may present to officers a document that they believe exempts them from the authority of the police and entitles them to charge fees if they are detained. “Subjects make continued use of nonsensical legal/quasi-legal jargon,” the bulletin said.
Some Canadian judges have expressed frustration with Freemen tying up the court system.
In September, John Rooke, associate chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta, issued a scathing ruling against a self-described Freeman, Dennis Larry Meads, for holding up his divorce proceedings by making “bluntly idiotic” arguments.
At one point, court records state, after the judge informed Meads of the basics of family law proceedings, Meads replied that “there are rules above man’s rules, and God’s laws is where your laws originated from.”
The judge characterized the “gurus” behind the Freeman on the Land and similar movements as “nothing more than “con men,” who pitch distorted world views on followers through seminars, books, websites and DVDs.
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