On September 27th, Calgary police arrested Mario Antonacci (also known as Adreas Pirelli) on Quebec warrants originating from a 2007 alleged assault on his former Montreal landlady. While this arrest in itself was not particularly spectacular or unique, it came during a week where Mr. Antonacci was the centre of a media storm regarding his involvement in the Freemen-on-the-Land movement. Mr. Antonacci had caught the public eye by refusing to vacate his Calgary apartment, having declared it an “embassy” and a sovereign nation separate from Canada.

The Freemen-on-the-Land movement originated in the United States as a fringe libertarian movement. Its members claim they are “sovereign citizens” and don’t recognize the rule of law. This is based on a belief that statute law is contractual, and that individuals may opt out of statutes and are only bound by a nebulous concept called “natural law”. This is followed by creative interpretations of the law, which often involves claiming that they are separate individuals from their birth certificate, that a court of law is governed by Admiralty law if there is a flag in the courtroom, or that the government has a secret bank account for each individual that may be accessed with the right combination of notary stamps. Litigation involving Freemen-on-the-Land often becomes swamped by misleading or pseudolegal documents.

However, the Freemen-on-the-Land movement has a darker side than just slowing down the court process through mountains of legally irrelevant or garbled documentation. In 2011, the FBI placed the movement on their domestic terror watchlist, after the shooting deaths of two police officers in Arkansas by members of the Freemen movement during a routine traffic investigation.

In Canada, the Freemen movement has been more heavily present in family and landlord/tenant disputes, but lawyers practicing in many different fields may encounter individuals belonging to this movement. On September 25, 2013, the Alberta Law Society issued a practice advisory regarding Freemen, or “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument” (OPCA) litigants, as they are formally known. This advisory cautioned lawyers not to notarize documents with no legal effect or that are legal fictions, and advises lawyers to not assist in preparing documents that resemble court documents and are intended to deceive the recipients. The advisory also warns lawyers to advise clients if the clients have entered into contracts or are dealing with Freemen, and that if a lawyer is approached to act for an OPCA litigant, they must make sure the case is meritorious.

The current status of Freemen / OPCA litigants has been covered in two Alberta Queen’s Bench decisions, Meads v Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 and ANB v Hancock, 2013 ABQB 97.

Meads sets out one of the most thorough examinations of OPCA litigation in Canadian case law. Associate Chief Justice John D. Rooke’s 156-page decision explains in depth the motivations and methodology of OPCA litigants, as well as strategies and arguments that are frequently used by OPCA litigants in Canadian case law.

In Meads, Justice Rooke sets out responses for both justices and lawyers when dealing with OPCA litigants. Justices are encouraged to strike proceedings that are based on incomprehensible arguments, order punitive damages for pre-trial misconduct (liens based on unilateral and pseudolegal agreements are common tactics of OPCA litigants), elevate costs, order security for costs and fines, use OPCA litigation as the basis for declaring a vexatious litigant, and to use ‘show cause’ hearings to identify genuine legal arguments obscured by OPCA methods. Lawyers are instructed under Meads to refuse to notarize OPCA documents, and are encouraged to educate judges on OPCA issues, as well as to pursue applications to strike, punitive damages, and elevated cost awards in order to protect their clients from the vexatious nature of OPCA litigation.

ANB relies on Meads to identify respondent A.N.B. as an OPCA litigant, and expands Meads by adding security measures, including shielding the identities of the defendants’ lawyers from the respondent due to his prior criminal conviction. The decision in ANB was also delivered by Justice Rooke, who suggested that security precautions when dealing with an OPCA litigant should be easily available where a party is able to establish an “air of reality to an actual or potential threat or danger”. However, any security precautions cannot affect the litigant’s ability to respond or to make argument in court.