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The Law Society continues to hear concerns regarding “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument” litigants (OPCA litigants), and specifically Freemen on the Land. Consequently, we want to remind lawyers of their obligations when dealing with OPCA litigants.
In the leading case regarding such individuals, Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (CanLII), Associate Chief Justice Rooke provides an excellent summary of the characteristics of OPCA litigants. Other identifying names for them are “Freemen on the Land”, “Sovereign Citizens” or “de-taxers”. The decision is worth reading to assist lawyers in identifying these individuals. A review of recent case law on CanLII demonstrates that the courts continue to deal regularly with OPCA litigants.
As was the case in Meads, OPCA litigants often present documents that have no legal effect, or which are otherwise legal fictions, for notarization. The Law Society has cautioned lawyers on many previous occasions not to engage in notarizing such documents. All lawyers are officers of the court and are obliged not to participate in the preparation of a document that resembles a court document, or any other document intended to deceive the recipient.
Lawyers and students are often consulted to notarize and commission documents. Notaries public and commissioners for oaths in Alberta are governed by the Notaries and Commissioners Act and associated regulations.
Notaries and commissioners are also subject to a code of conduct, set forth in the regulations which have been passed under the Act. Of relevance, notaries and commissioners must not, among other things, notarize/commission or participate in the preparation or delivery of a document that is false, incomplete, misleading, deceptive or fraudulent. Additionally, they must not participate in the preparation of a document that has the false appearance of being issued by a court or other legitimate authority, or a document that is otherwise lacking valid legal effect. These documents may have the effect of deceiving others, and lawyers must not notarize or commission such documents as it lends a false appearance of authenticity or authority.
When persons present documents to be sworn under oath or requiring the signature of a notary or commissioner, notaries and commissioners must also be aware of the provisions of the Judicature Act and the Criminal Code. Section 55 of the Judicature Act includes a provision that any person using a court form or anything similar to it in a manner that is likely to deceive another person is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine and/or up to 6 months imprisonment. Similarly, section 137 of the Criminal Code provides that any person who fabricates anything with the intent that it be used in a judicial proceeding, with intent to mislead, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
Lawyers acting as notaries and commissioners also need to be aware of the provisions of the Code of Conduct, including, but not limited to, the Rules with respect to misleading a tribunal, assisting a client in doing anything dishonest, and offering false evidence.
In the Meads decision, Mr. Justice Rooke made the following comments about lawyers notarizing OPCA documents, at paragraph 645:
This Court has, on previous instances, drawn to the attention of the Law Society of Alberta that this kind of action is inappropriate for an officer of the court. It assists implementation of vexatious litigation strategies. In my view, a lawyer has a positive duty not to engage in a step that would ‘formalize’ (though typically in a legally irrelevant manner) an OPCA document. I have previously noted that certain OPCA gurus place a peculiar and mythical authority in a notary’s hands. A lawyer should not, directly or indirectly, reinforce, or support that purpose.
Lawyers may encounter OPCA litigants in many settings. There are court decisions referencing OPCA litigants in criminal, family and foreclosure matters, to name a few. Individuals may encounter Freemen on the Land in real estate matters as well. If a client has entered into a contract with one of these individuals, it is important for the lawyer to recognize this and advise the client. Real estate lawyers should also be advising realtors to be aware of whether they may be dealing with Freemen on the Land.
Alberta courts are dealing with OPCA litigants under Civil Practice Note No. 7 and they are often declared to be vexatious litigants. If approached to act for an OPCA litigant, lawyers should keep in mind that they may not ethically take steps in the representation of a client which are without merit. Some of these individuals, however, may have meritorious cases and representation should not be denied simply because a person or their cause is notorious or unpopular.
Freemen on the Land are a concern because some followers advocate violence to promote their views. In some cases, Freemen on the Land have been involved in incidents with police. Lawyers should also be aware of potential threats to their personal safety. Firms should have a workplace security plan in place to deal with external threats to their offices. Lawyers may wish to be identified by pseudonyms in court documents to protect their anonymity.