In what promises to be the most bizarre and intriguing thing you will read this autumn, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench recently set the record straight on the relationship between the justice system, and some constituents who seek to resist the authority of the court over them.
Associate Chief Justice Rooke engaged in a lengthy analysis of and judicial response to a radical libertarian movement with bizarre anarchist overtones. He declared their legal strategies to be “contemptibly stupid” and offered guidance to “lead them to more productive and successful interaction with the courts, government and their fellow citizens.”
Taking the “consent of the governed” and social contract theory to the extreme, various movements known as Freemen, Detaxers, and Sovereign Citizens (among other names) assert that statute law does not apply to them unless they specifically consent. As Justice Rooke said, “they will only honour state, regulatory, contractual, fiduciary, family, equitable and criminal obligations if they feel like it. And typically, they don’t.”
When they bump up against the justice system for driving without a license or ignoring their income tax, mortgage, or even child and spousal support obligations, they claim the state has no authority over them as flesh and blood men and living souls. Any attempt by the state or fellow citizens to assert authority over them or legal claims against them thus requires their express consent, and failure to obtain consent is a violation of human rights law, Divine Law, and even the United States Uniform Commercial Code. While these arguments are no more effective than shouting abracadabra while doing the hokey pokey, many individuals have clogged up the courts with countless procedural motions and unnecessary documentation in an effort to avoid critical legal obligations by asserting their “free-ness” and state authorities’ corresponding lack of jurisdiction over them.
Although these small and arguably fringe groups are easy to dismiss, their commitments to individual autonomy and self-determination have some resonance in our society. The Freemen correctly assert that as flesh and blood human beings and living souls, they are not the creation of the state and the state does not own them. There are spheres of life in which the state should not reach. Likewise, they and their counterparts are not alone in resisting excessive taxation or unnecessary state incursions into family life, their business and commercial relationships, and other spheres of life. Nor should they be alone. An overexpansive state risks undermining not only our individual freedoms but also the autonomy and integrity of the institutions we form.
That said, the Court’s decision provides some important reminders about the limits of freedom. Most importantly, freedom cannot exist merely for the sake of freedom. Nor should it be invoked to avoid all legitimate legal, moral, or other obligations. Freedom that unfetters us from all obligation to our fellow citizens and human beings does not make us more free. Neither does it make us more human.