Ontario’s courts are all too familiar with those individuals who espouse the general theory that they’re free from all recognized forms of government. These anarchist groups go by various names, including freemen on the land, sovereign citizens, and the Moorish nation.
Although their ideologies vary somewhat, they’re uniform in their rejection of modern government and their assertion that, for whatever reason, they’re immune from the laws that are applicable to other citizens.
There’s a great deal of literature out there regarding the antics of the freemen.
They interact with the courts frequently both because they’re constantly running afoul of the law at every level, both criminal and civil, and they’re also active and aggressive self-represented litigants (the irony being, of course, that they doctrinally reject the jurisdiction of our courts and yet they use them constantly to advance their political ends) who often target law enforcement, the justice system, and the government in their lawsuits.
In the seminal Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench case of Meads v. Meads, Associate Chief Justice John Rooke coined the phrase “organised pseudolegal commercial arguments” to describe the freemen ideology. Both the phrase and the reasons in the case have become ubiquitous when discussing the freemen ideology in the context of litigation.
While the freemen have been a scourge in the courts for some time now, their presence in local land registry offices is still a relative novelty, at least here in Ontario (although there are anecdotal reports that they’re far more annoying and persistent in western Canadian offices).
That said, the frequency of their visits, even here in Ontario, is increasing. One can easily speculate on why that’s the case.
First, land registry offices have historically been a natural and intuitive place to register certificates of perceived importance.
Second, and perhaps more tellingly, one of the tenets of most of their arguments is a complete release from all debts and liabilities they may otherwise have incurred to date. So it may be that some freemen believe that registering evidence of their ideological affiliation will somehow discharge their existing mortgage debts and hence the perceived need to register at the land registry offices.
Whatever the motive, the freemen tend to show up in Ontario land registry offices for registration on paper even though 99 per cent of the registrations now occur digitally and remotely via Teraview. However, there’s a standing order to the effect that no land registry office in Ontario will consider any such documents. If the freemen think they have registrable documents, then instead of attending at a land registry office, they must submit them to Toronto for preauthorization.
Freemen documents typically include declarations of freeman status, certificates of allodial title, releases from liability in rem, and often bills and invoices against one or more level of government. Their documentation is bizarre by modern conveyancing standards and almost never disclose any registrable interests in land. And even if such documents did create some potential estates, rights, interests or equities in land, they’re almost never in anything approaching a registrable form.
Again, there’s a significant irony at play: Even though the freemen don’t recognize any modern governmental institutions (with the land registration system being no exception), they nevertheless love to register their documents that purport to affirm their immunity to their authority.
Of course, the readers of this column in Law Times hardly need the director of titles to tell them that these freemen documents aren’t registrable. One look at them will make it obvious even to an articling student that they’re not registrable under the Land Titles Act. What’s particularly odd, however, is the freeman submit many of these documents over the counter fully notarized — and by lawyers. It’s not at all clear to me what notarial attestation could possibly mean in the context of these sorts of documents other than to give them some artificial air of legitimacy. The Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia seemed to have shared this sense of incredulity when it fined and reprimanded one of its own for witnessing some really scandalous freemen documents in her capacity as a notary public. According to the society, the notary’s attestation in that context constituted conduct “beyond the lawful practice of a Notary Public” and the notary herself admitted to misconduct for that notarization.
I’m not aware of any similar case law in Ontario but am not beyond actually making some if these freemen documents continue to show up in the land registry offices fully notarized by lawyers. In my view, there’s a professional obligation to understand what you’re notarizing, the purpose for which you’re doing so, and the implications notarial attestation will have. Advancing the freemen agenda by notarizing these sorts of documents may be $100 in your pocket today in the eyes of your bookkeeper but it may also be unprofessional conduct in the future in the eyes of a regulator. Is it really worth it to find out?
Luckily, there have been no incidents of violence associated with the freemen in the local land registry offices to date in the same way as some freemen have made headlines in the United States. Perhaps this is just a Canadian thing, but whatever the reason, as director of titles, I fully intend to maintain this track record.
Jeffrey Lem is editor-in-chief of Real Property Reports and director of titles for the province of Ontario. The opinions expressed in this article are personal to him and not attributable or referable to the Ontario government.