This piece appeared in The Hill Times on March 19, 2018
Of all the groups that we can describe as extremist in nature, if not necessarily violent extremist, none can be as bizarre as the one that calls itself ‘Freemen on the Land’ (a.k.a. sovereign citizens). This small coterie of Canadians hews to a number of odd beliefs including the conviction that they do not have to pay taxes, that documents such as birth certificates and drivers’ licences are beneath them, and that they can cock a snook at the Canadian government, or any other government for that matter. They are ‘free’ to do as they please and they do not take kindly to the State poking its nose into their lives.
The State may be many things to many people – inefficient, wasting, silly, etc. – and there are few who really want to pay taxes after all. Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings the State does do some good like provide welfare to those in need, build roads, schools and hospitals, and provide us with laws that keep us safe. If you really think that the State is useless, try living in a place where it is weak or non-existent – say Yemen or Somalia – and get back to me on how these countries are Nirvana-like in the absence of governance. I can’t wait to hear your report.
One thing that these self-styled ‘independents’ are is brazen. They willingly oppose and despise the government and go to extraordinary lengths to stop doing simple things like paying income tax. An interesting case is unfolding in Quebec as I write and serves to illustrate just how whacky these people are.
Christine Banville practices medicine near Quebec City and believes that she has ‘rights’, one of which is the right not to pay income tax. The irony is dripping off this woman. As a doctor, she already benefits from the taxes that you and I pay and yet she feels that she has no need to pay them herself: she owes $147,000 to the government. Quebec is seeking to recover that money.
The Freemen apparently have 30,000 members in this country and engage in what analysts call ‘paper terrorism’, meaning that they tie up the court system with their ridiculous claims, all of which cost the taxpayer money, but not them of course since they don’t pay taxes. Convenient, isn’t it?
While it would be difficult to call ‘paper terrorism’ violent, in the US the Freemen are designated as a terrorist group and have been responsible for several deaths: the Oklahoma City terrorist in 1995, Timothy McVeigh, was a sovereign citizen. In Canada there has been at least one death in Canada tied to a Freeman: a member in Edmonton killed a local police officer back in 2015.
It is important not to overemphasise the influence or power that Canadian Freemen have. They constitute a small group and the vast majority engage in nothing more than court challenges. This is frustrating and aggravating but it does not pose a threat to the State. In the few cases where violence is used or may be used, the proper charges should be laid.
Still there is still an underlying issue that we have to address. Canada is run by rule of law and that rule applies to all citizens, Freemen included. Those who don’t like the law have every opportunity to change it by running for office and making new ones or lobbying existing governments to do so. There really should be no exception to this and those Freemen who revel in acting as if they are outside the law need to have the book thrown at them. Ms. Banville should have her licence to practice medicine revoked until she wakes up and realises the tremendous benefits she derives from the tax system she abhors. Anything less is a mockery of the society we have built in this country.