P.E..I. court hears a form of Freemen-on-the-land ideology

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on February 24, 2014

Prince Edward Island provincial court

©Guardian photo

A Charlottetown court got a little confusing Monday as a man suspected of trying to follow the Freemen-on-the-Land doctrine came before judge Nancy Orr.

John James MacLean, 55, appeared for the first time in provincial court Monday to face charges of failing to stop at the scene of an accident, evading police during a vehicle pursuit and dangerous driving from an incident on Jan. 2 this year.

He was to enter a plea on the charges, either saying he was guilty or instead, going to trial on a not-guilty plea. Often lawyers ask for delays at this point in a case to assemble information and develop a plan, but MacLean appeared in court without a lawyer.

As the detailed wording of the charges was being read to him by Orr, MacLean tried to interject.

“This is a special appearance,” he said of his presence in court.

He said he was making a motion on a “jurisdictional matter.”

Crown prosecutor Jeff MacDonald told the court that MacLean appears to be following “a freeman-on-the-land ideology.”

“ ‘Freemen’ (or Sovereign Citizens, Living Souls or Natural Persons, as they sometimes call themselves) believe that all ­statute law is contractual,” says a briefing note on the ideology by the Law Society of British Columbia. “They further believe that law only governs them if they choose or consent to be governed. By implication, they believe that, by not consenting, they can hold themselves independent of government jurisdiction.”

The FBI considers extreme holders of this ideology to be a form of domestic terrorism, says the law society note.

“Freemen may number up to 30,000 in Canada and hundreds of thousands in the United States,” says the B.C. briefing.

MacLean denied the allegiance, saying he heard the phrase freeman-on-the-land for the first time in the court lobby and then moments later in court from the Crown lawyer.

It took Orr some time to discover that MacLean was saying he wanted his case to proceed to the Supreme Court, by way of a legal process called indictment.

The Crown makes that decision and told the court it was going to pursue the charges through provincial court only, known as a summary process.

MacLean told the court that he “wouldn’t have bothered” coming to court if he had known his case was going to proceed summarily in provincial court.

“Unfortunately sir, you get this court,” said Orr. “There isn’t an option.

“In my view this is not a guest appearance or a special appearance,” said Orr to MacLean.

She asked if he was planning on getting a lawyer.

“You seem to be labouring under some very significant misconceptions about the legal system,” she said.

MacLean didn’t tell the court of any plans to consult a lawyer.

Orr then set his case over to March 26 for a second attempt to have MacLean enter a plea.

A court staff member handed him a small piece of paper with that date and time as a reminder, which MacLean then put into his hat with other papers, and put the hat on his head as he left the court room.