HAMILTON, ONT. • When Mika Rasila got pulled over by Niagara police in January for driving his white Pontiac Montana without licence plates, he was ready with a defence: he doesn’t need plates because he’s a Freeman on the Land.
A Freeman on the Land, he explained in a letter he tried to hand the patrol officer through the window, is someone who has revoked his consent to be governed. He has opted out of Canada so the laws don’t apply to him.
Police seized his van, arrested him and charged him with six traffic offences, but the incident signaled that the anti-government Freemen on the Land, of which Mr. Rasila is a prominent member, had taken root in Canada.
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Across the country, police and officials have been having similar run-ins with “freemen,” also known as “sovereign citizens,” members of a radical movement that does not recognize government authority and consequently refuses to licence their cars, carry government ID or obey police.
“We have thousands of members now,” said Mr. Rasila, who writes on the Freemen of Canada Facebook page, which has over 2,000 members. “We have meetings, we’re fairly organized. They’re very casual, usually just in someone’s living room or we’ll rent a hall.”
Canada’s freemen are a loose collection of true believers, ranging from tax protesters to 9/11 conspiracists to fathers whose children have been apprehended by child welfare agencies. What unites them is their dislike of government.
Self-declared defenders of individual freedom, they are anti-government extremists in the sense that, rather than opposing specific policies, they deny government has any legitimacy at all and want to be left alone to live according to their own rules.
Police aren’t sure what to make of the freemen. Are they harmless fanatics or an emerging domestic extremist group? Although police in Ontario say it’s too soon to tell, they are concerned about the potential for violence and have begun sharing information and circulating intelligence reports on the subject.
“It’s something that we know about, it’s something that we need to know about and it’s something we need to monitor to a degree,” said Sergeant Brian Ritchie of the Hamilton Police Service hate crimes unit.