In recent years, the Freemen on the Land movement has been growing in western Canada.
Followers of the movement believe that statute laws are contractual and only applicable so long as individuals consent to being governed by them. Based on that, they believe they can declare themselves "sovereign citizens" and exempt themselves from the law.
When front-line members in Alberta started encountering Freemen regularly, two members of the former Calgary Intelligence Unit were asked to help prepare police officers for dealing with Freemen followers.
Corporals Ian Smith and Jerion Hildebrand, whose portfolios in the intelligence unit were often gang-related, were having a hard time pinpointing exactly what the Freemen believe because of the fractured nature of the movement.
"If you had 1,000 different Freemen out there, you'd have 1,000 different opinions on various things," says Smith. "It's not like an organized crime group, a lot of the information on them is opinion-based. It's hard to draw consistencies and commonalities across the board."
They also found that the Freeman doctrine spreads over the Internet and social media. To prepare members to deal with citizens who refuse to acknowledge their authority, they created a PowerPoint presentation that they then began delivering in detachments across Alberta.
How to tell you're dealing with a Freeman
Whether through a traffic stop, or out in the community, here are a few signs you may be dealing with a Freeman:
- no car registration
- fake licence plate
- bumper stickers (often with the words "free" on them, or with images of upside-down flags)
- refer to their "right to travel"
- refer to obscure legal documents (like the Magna Carta)
- refuse to acknowledge their legal name
- attempt to give you a fee schedule for their time
- a sign at their door indicating that police have no authority or jurisdiction on the property
- present authentic-looking peace officer badges, represent themselves as peace officers
Source: Freeman on the Land, NWR Video Unit
"Education is the way to go," says Hildebrand. "Once members know what they're dealing with, the remedies are all there and they can just carry on with their job."
Over the years, they did numerous presentations at RCMP detachments, but even then, they weren't able to reach all the members across the division. And that's when making a video was suggested.
Knowledge is power
Working with Rene Huot, from the Alberta RCMP's training section video unit, they turned the original PowerPoint into a video that was distributed throughout Alberta, Manitoba and even as far east as Nova Scotia.
"We get feedback on a regular basis from members who watch the video and now feel more empowered in their interactions," says Huot. "There's a lot of misinformation on this topic and once it becomes more frequent, you have to really tackle it before it gets out of control."
Huot says a member in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., contacted the unit to let them know how helpful she'd found the video. On the same shift she had viewed it, she encountered a Freeman – and was prepared to deal with him.
Smith and Hildebrand say that was their ultimate goal – to increase members' confidence in their authority, which ultimately leads to their safety.
"Right or wrong, I think we, as police officers, like to define or categorize it when we see something," says Hildebrand. "I think that's a trait of police work in general, but if you don't know what you're dealing with, it's hard to do that."
When an officer pulls someone over during a traffic stop, their first concern is always going to be safety. Engaging in a debate at the side of the road or taking their attention off the driver at any point is incredibly dangerous. Just knowing that what they're hearing is nonsense could be the difference that keeps everyone safe.
"You can't legislate what people think and sometimes that concerns police officers when someone isn't complying for reasons they've never heard of before," says Smith. "Awareness just removes that doubt and that lack of confidence, and members can go about their duties safely."