Wangersky: Canada’s legal system doesn’t suffer fools gladly

Beware of schemes that promise you a quick way out of legal jeopardy — most don’t work, and leave the individuals who try facing penalties.

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The wheels of justice, as the old saying goes, “turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine.”

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And it’s a grinding that some Canadians are finding out about the hard way.

For the last few years, there has been a growth of a variety of quasi-legal fads that seek to give people a shortcut around the legal process — or at least an expectation that they can set themselves outside the law.

In one, a woman who proclaimed herself the Queen of Canada, Romana Didulo, issued decrees saying that Canadians no longer had to pay water or electrical bills, or pay taxes. Needless to say, those who followed that advice are now having their utilities cut off, and are facing growing interest costs.

Another long-running pseudo-legal claim purports to free you from everything from speeding tickets to court orders, simply by claiming that the individual involved has no signed contract with the government, so anything done by the government is invalid.

(That’s an extremely shorthand way to describe the “freemen on the land” movement, but I honestly don’t have the time or the energy to take you down that particular rabbit hole.)

The fundamental charm of such claims is that they give adherents an easy way out of legal or fiscal responsibility. But the end result is that it’s those ground-level adherents who often pay the highest personal price.

It’s often that way. While organizers of the convoy that occupied Ottawa are finding they are paying a high personal cost for their temporary fame, others are facing costs on a smaller, more direct scale without any public support.

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At least one individual protester who spent his life savings funding the convoy has lost both his apartment and his van — which was impounded, and he can’t afford to pay to have it released — according to a story he did with the CBC. 

The ideas for the easy outs often get hand-delivered to people by the Internet. If you have grievances, real or imagined, the law doesn’t apply to you — it looks like an effective life-ring.

But the courts often aren’t having any of it.

“Social media may have helped to create the environment in which there is belief that everyone is entitled to ‘have their say’, ‘speak their truth’ or express their opinion on any matter. The more florid and inflamed the language and the more outrageous the accusation made by the aggrieved party, the more authentic it is deemed to be,” wrote Judge Jamie Campbell in a recent Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision.

“Courts are not the places for such no-holds-barred verbal cage match tactics. There are limits and those limits apply to everyone, no matter how angry, upset, or unheard they may feel. Self-represented litigants are entitled to be respected, heard, and assisted wherever possible. That does not extend to allowing them to disregard the basic rules of evidence and file documents that contain an unrestrained barrage of irrelevant accusations.”

It’s a harsh thing to say, but the credulous get taken in every day. And expecting that you can use some kind of simple shortcut to get around laws or paying bills is the height of credulity.

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(It’s also sometimes close to tragicomedy — hearing Ottawa convoy protesters complain that the law was broken because possessions they used during the blockade and abandoned weren’t adequately protected and preserved by police is more than a little mind-boggling.)

All sorts of groups that have decided they can flout the rules are finding out things don’t necessarily run smoothly when they decide to go their own way.

Individuals also find, sadly, that they are entirely on their own when things go bad. Those who espouse what others end up doing seem often to vanish into the woodwork, leaving others to face the consequences.

Here’s how an Ontario Court of Justice judge described the process of looking for easy outs from the legal system almost a decade ago: “It has been said that, given enough time, 10,000 monkeys with typewriters would probably eventually replicate the collected works of William Shakespeare.

“Sadly, when human beings are let loose with computers and Internet access, their work product does not necessarily compare favourably to the aforementioned monkeys with typewriters.”

There’s not much there in the way of judicial patience.

Most of us learn very early on that there is no get-out-of-jail-free card for our social responsibilities.

Others, it seems, are determined to find it out much later.

Russell Wangersky is the editor in chief of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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