You can’t understand modern Canadian politics without knowing how many people believe in pseudolaw.
Whether it’s in courtrooms across the nation, or among those taking part in recent anti-mandate trucker protests, there are thousands of people whose understanding of the law is badly broken.
And that’s a problem, because it’s leading them into confrontations with authority that will cause them financial pain and possibly see them thrown into prison.
Pseudolaw is an actual term used in Canadian courts. It means fake law, and it is usually transmitted, you will be surprised to hear, via social media.
For a long time, the most pernicious form of pseudolaw in Canada was the Freeman-on-the-land ideology. This was a whole package of ideas that was sold by various gurus, either in person or via online courses, as a way to evade taxes and other onerous fees.
There are a lot of bizarre elements to freeman-on-the-land beliefs, but most of them add up to what Alberta’s Justice John D. Rooke identified in an important ruling as “magic hats.”
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Rooke said that the various pseudolegal arguments he was seeing in his court were put on and taken off like caps.
Each one made the person wearing it supposedly immune to various laws or court procedures. In some cases, a magic hat might be a homemade license plate, signing forms with a thumbprint, a strange way of spelling and capitalizing your name, peculiar declarations made to police officers, or shouting “Man overboard!” when someone leaves a courtroom. (That’s a real example, by the way.)
In each case, the people who had bought into the pseudolegal theories believed the magic hat would get them out of their current difficulties – they could drive without a valid license, they could stop paying child support, they could illegally transport fireworks on an airplane. (That’s a real example, by the way).
In no case, of course, do any of these magic hats work. The only magic hat in court is a really good lawyer and some reasonable doubt.
Since Rooke’s ruling in Meads v. Meads a decade ago, courts have cracked down on the core Freeman-on-the-land arguments. The concept, which used to be sold as a complete package, seems to have fragmented and mutated.
Now on social media, it’s just as common to see little bits and pieces of pseudolaw presented as fact. In many ways, this makes them easier to swallow, although it’s no more helpful when faced with an actual police officer or judge.
This has most recently popped up at the Ottawa protests, where many people seemed firmly certain that the police could not legally arrest them.
Here’s a solid tip – don’t take legal advice from someone’s YouTube video, Facebook page, or TikTok. Talk to a laywer, or at least someone with a firm grasp on reality.
There are no magic hats, no get-out-of-jail-free cards if you break the law.
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