By Chet Greason, Staff reporter
There’s a small contingent of individuals in Canada who are rethinking the way they interact with the government and the culture at large. The Freeman on the Land and their unique ideology have been around for a number of years, with pockets in London, Guelph, and Owen Sound, elsewhere in British Columbia and Quebec, and beyond to places like Scotland and New Zealand. However, up until last month, the sovereign movement has been somewhat unheard of in Perth County.
Then, at the most recent St. Marys Police Services Board meeting, Perth County OPP Detachment Commander Steve Porter brought up the movement, saying Perth OPP had had a run-in with someone in North Perth claiming to be a Freeman on the Land. He described the movement as an “interesting group” who don’t acknowledge government associations and believe they have the right to move about without government intervention. The local detachment has since received training on how to deal with these individuals, who drive without driver’s licenses.
The St. Marys Journal Argus sought out the Freemen in an effort to better understand how they function, and eventually came into contact with Rob Menard, a leader in the movement with a number of videos on YouTube explaining how the lifestyle works.
“The problem we see is that so many people agree to be bound by statutes, never read them, and then assume there exists duties under that Act,” he explains through email correspondence. “They then claim we too are bound by those words, though we never agreed. We study and read that same Act, realize the limits of authority granted and obligations generated, and then operate within the law. The people who have never read the Act and assume it is the law then claim we are breaking the law.”
Menard says a large part of the Freeman stance comes from this distinction between law and statutes. “If you imagine the law as that which allows us to contract, and then statutes as the terms of a contract, you will get close to our perspective,” he says. “It is our position that contracts require mutual consent, as does membership in a society.”
Freemen literature found online describes the Canadian government as a corporation, no different than a company like Wal-Mart, with citizens operating as employees; but, goes the thinking, if you don’t want to be employed by Wal-Mart and follow their rules, why should you?
When asked about some specifics, Menard paints a picture of a somewhat subjective movement; some Freemen are secular, some devoutly spiritual; all desire to not be told what to do by a higher (human) authority. Adherents will often pick and choose what tenants of society apply to them, such as public healthcare. “Many have been convinced that healthcare requires them to pay, but these are the same people who have never read the applicable statutes, nor examined what their rights are according to certain UN covenants to which Canada is a signatory,” says Menard. “Some step out of the system, and still maintain certain relationships, kind of like a child slowly learning to swim or walk. Others would simply ask for a bill, then exercise their right to access the common wealth to discharge it or claim the right to healthcare.”
Other tenants of Canadian citizenry, such as voting, are definitely inapplicable. Menard equates voting to “…the children deciding who they will have as a babysitter.”
Part of the major clash between Freemen and law enforcement comes because both sides are carrying out what they see as the letter of the law. Freemen interpret certain rules as being optional or non-applicable, while police see them as non-negotiable. Driving without a driver’s license is a good example of this, and YouTube abounds with videos of Freemen and police arguing over the issue (Freemen also often film themselves during altercations).
Should a Freeman cause an accident- for example, with their vehicle- Menard says they will be held liable and be subject to the courts, although most Freemen would rather use the courts as little as possible.
“Most Freemen are loath to use such institutions, as they are a place for people who could not resolve their conflicts,” explains Menard. “It is a place for children, and those who seek power. Most Freemen would follow the law, and offer discussion and negotiation, then pay for the damages they caused.”
Constable Kees Wijnands of the Perth County OPP verifies that the only known run-ins between police and Freemen in Perth County have been with Freemen passing through. He says that the special training the OPP received dealt with informing officers about the nature of the philosophy. “(The training showed) how best to deal with them while still properly respecting freedom of expression, while at the same time ensuring public safety and upholding the law,” he said. He adds that, if there’s a traffic offense of some kind, the driver must identify themselves. “That’s usually the issue, and there’s usually an arrest for failure to identify …they’re just trying to test the system and make their point.
“It’s not our job to play into ideological ideas. Our job is to enforce the law. To us, it’s black and white,” says Wijnands. “We have rules in order to maintain an orderly society. If they see differently, there’s going to be an issue there.”
Wijnands also added the O.P.P.’s hate crime/extremism unit is keeping an eye on the movement. “Anytime we’re dealing with an organization with extreme views, we need to keep tabs on them,” he said.
But Rob Menard doesn’t see the Freemen on the Land as going away anytime soon. “Either seven generations from now, the Freemen will be a little burp in the corporate created history books, or people will be free and enjoying true abundance,” he says. “…We will be seen as the heroes who, during a very dark night, got out of bed, lit the fires, manned the battlements, and gave the warning that corporations were attacking our rights and freedoms and had hijacked our political and justice systems.”