The term “OPCA litigant” (Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigant) appears to have been first coined by Mr. Justice Rooke of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, in his seminal decision of Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571*.
Meads was a family law case in which one party chose to advance a number of meritless arguments in an attempt to deprive the court of jurisdiction or otherwise derail the matter. These arguments included claiming that the opposing party, the opposing party’s lawyer, and the court were attempting to “induce him into slavery”. The OPCA litigant produced reams of documents and left a court hearing half way through, apparently out of the fear that by remaining he would accept the court’s jurisdiction over him.
Mr. Justice Rooke took the case as an opportunity to release a massive 188 page decision that not only dealt with the issues between the parties, but went on to explore in depth the different types of OPCA litigants and explain why their arguments don’t work.
OPCA litigants have many different varieties. Some of the more common variants include the “Freemen on the land” movement, de-taxers and Sovereign Citizens; but there are many others. The main characteristic of OPCA litigants is that they purport to believe that they have some kind of special tactic that will deprive the court of jurisdiction over them, or otherwise exempt them from following the law.
OPCA litigants usually represent themselves, as all lawyers are officers of the court with a duty to refrain from vexatious or meritless litigation, and so it is extremely unlikely that a lawyer would knowingly advance the case of an OPCA litigant. Many self-represented parties do an excellent job and would never engage in OPCA tactics, but almost all OPCA litigants are self-represented. This self-representation makes OPCA litigants even more challenging, because the court has a duty to explain the process and render some limited level of assistance to self-represented litigants. In the case of OPCA litigants, the court has to walk a fine line to fulfill their duty to the self-represented party, while also minimizing the impact of the shenanigans in which OPCA litigants routinely engage. The courts across Canada are increasingly aware of this issue, and are actively working to avoid the negative impacts of OPCA litigants.
Don’t Buy in to the OPCA!
The various strategies of OPCA litigants are too wide-ranging to fully discuss in this article, but some of them include:
- Claiming that they are “natural persons” and are subject only to “God’s Law” and not to the laws of man;
- Alleging that individuals are only obliged to pay income tax if they opt-in to government provided programs, like Canada Pension Plan;
- Relying upon centuries-old statutes from England as part of an argument that Canadian courts lack jurisdiction to decide legal matters;
- Claiming that due to procedural irregularities in their creation, Canadian courts only have jurisdiction over admiralty law and the sea, and have no jurisdiction on dry land;
- Flat out refusing to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the courts, on the basis that the court has no jurisdiction over the individual unless the individual accepts the jurisdiction of the court.
- Affixing stamps, thumb prints, and Latin phrases to documents, either to deliberately confuse the reader, or out of the belief that these items have some legal significance or impact.
Most troubling is the fact that OPCA argument is often promoted by “gurus” who sell their strategies to gullible individuals. This is especially common with tax evasion schemes where a guru will convince people that a made up strategy can allow them to never pay income tax and thereby take home more money. Often these gurus end up in jail or on the losing end of civil court actions due to their own strategies, but that is little consolation to someone who bought in to the guru’s strategy and ended up facing serious regulatory or criminal penalties; such as going to jail for tax evasion.
Canadian courts have unequivocally rejected the arguments and strategies advanced by OPCA litigants, especially the OPCA claim that the courts lack jurisdiction. The courts exist to enforce the law, to provide a venue for the resolution of disputes, and to create order in our society. In order to do this, the courts need the jurisdiction to fulfill these goals. In Meads at para 370 the court succinctly explained the position of Canadian courts towards OPCA and jurisdiction:
“There is always a court, though perhaps not this one, that has jurisdiction over these litigants and their activities. They cannot opt out. All arguments that invoke ‘immunity’ and indeed any schemes that claim a person can possess or acquire a status that allows them to ignore court authority are incorrect in law.”
The Meads decision goes on to address the other strategies of OPCA litigants, including debunking the idea that centuries-old statutes like the Magna Carta protect individuals from all government legislation, and rejecting the OPCA theory that everything, including paying income tax, is a contract that you can opt out of or terminate.
The court in Meads ultimately concluded that none of the OPCA strategies were valid, and stated that courts should dispose of OPCA arguments as directly as possible to protect those targeted by OPCA litigants, avoid the waste of court time, and to send a clear message that OPCA strategies will not succeed.
The end result is that pursuing these strategies will not magically make the case against you go away, and at most will result in only a temporary delay of the proceedings, while reducing the credibility of any legitimate legal arguments that you may have.
What to Do When Faced with an OPCA Litigant?
The recent BC Supreme Court case reported under the style of cause For the Peter of the August-Sjodin Family,: sp17uwe./:secwepemc v. Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, 2016 BCSC 1213, illustrates the damages that a vexatious OPCA litigant can cause.
The unusual style of cause gives away the OPCA strategies of the litigant in this case, who commenced various actions against his tribal band and its officials. The plaintiff was seeking, among other things, access to facilities from which he had been banned and compensation of “$20,000 in functional fiat Canadian currency from each defendant.”
The Notice of Civil Claim contained stamps, fingerprints, numbers and random letters that the court concluded were meaningless. The legal actions started by the plaintiff did not appear to have any merit, but still had to be defended by the defendants, causing significant costs.
Ultimately the court made an order that the plaintiff would have to provide security for costs before he could proceed with his action. This meant that the plaintiff could not take any steps in his lawsuit without putting an amount in to court that was deemed sufficient to cover the defendant’s costs if the plaintiff ultimately lost the case. Unfortunately the defendants were left with no recourse against the plaintiff to cover the already substantial legal costs that they had been forced to incur, because the plaintiff had no money. It is unlikely that the plaintiff would come up with the security for costs, and so his case was effectively at an end.
OPCA litigants usually end up in disputes with the government, but in civil actions against a private defendant the OPCA litigant can cause you to incur substantial costs just to deal with the OPCA litigant’s nonsense. If the OPCA litigant has no money these costs may be impossible to recover, so dealing with an OPCA litigant as cost effectively as possible is a priority.
The following are some of the strategies available to limit the damage caused by OPCA litigants:
- Make an application to strike the OPCA plaintiff’s pleadings. This involves an application to a Master of the court, or a judge, and if the application is successful then the plaintiff’s claim against you can be dismissed. More likely the court may order that the plaintiff amend their claim, which limits the benefits of this option.
- If the OPCA litigant actually has property, then you may pursue an award of special costs against them in order to recover the legal fees that you were forced to incur due to their meritless claim. This is possible where the OPCA litigant’s conduct has risen to an outrageous level and fulfills the legal test for an award of special costs. Unfortunately, many OPCA litigants are also flat out broke so no award of costs could ever be collected.
- Seek security for costs where the OPCA litigant’s claim, defence or application is clearly meritless. This strategy appears to be gaining popularity to deal with the fact that many OPCA litigants will never pay a costs award after the fact. Where appropriate, your counsel might apply to the court for an order that the OPCA litigant be forced to pay into court an amount to cover costs before they can proceed with their litigation. For impecunious and vexatious OPCA litigants, this might prevent them from being able to proceed with their litigation.
- Finally, for particularly persistent OPCA litigants someone may ultimately need to make an application to have them declared a vexatious litigant. If successful, that type of application can result in an order prohibiting the OPCA litigant from starting new lawsuits without the permission of a judge.
Many people would love to write their name in capitals, reference some centuries-old statute, throw in some incorrectly used Latin phrases and a few thumb prints for good measure, and completely avoid income tax, child support, or other obligations. Fortunately this is simply not possible.
The various OPCA schemes only end one way, with the OPCA litigant on the losing end; despite any meritorious arguments that they may have had before resorting to OPCA strategies. There are techniques for dealing with OPCA litigants, should you ever have the misfortune of facing one in a civil matter.
If you do find yourself in such an unfortunate situation, it is wise to seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. Velletta & Company is proud to offer a full range of legal services, including civil litigation defence. We have dealt with OPCA litigants in the past, including securing special costs awards against OPCA litigants. Contact us today!
*To anyone who is interested in reading more about this topic, the author recommends the Meads decision above as an excellent starting point as it cites many of the important OPCA decisions in Canada.