In the fall of 2017, 30-year-old Carlo Frederick Berg was convicted of sexual assault with a weapon. In 2015, Berg had pulled a woman into an alcove in an Edmonton strip mall, produced a knife and demanded that she perform a sexual act on him. Berg, a self-professed “sovereign citizen,” represented himself in court, submitting numerous bizarre materials to the court, including sheet music and a picture of the character Groot from the Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy.
While strange, Berg’s defence is not unique. In fact, the recent phenomenon called “organized pseudolegal commercial arguments” (OPCA), or pseudolaw, has become an increasing problem for the Canadian court system over the last twenty years. Adherents often represent themselves in court and are distrustful of the legal system, often espousing common conspiracy theories.
The strawman theory, referenced by Berg in his defence, is a perfect example. The theory argues that each person is in fact two people in the eyes of the law, the physical, flesh and blood person and a separate legal personality, the “strawman.” Adherents argue that all debts, liabilities, taxes and legal responsibilities belong to the straw man, not the physical person. This is based on a misreading of a number of legal issues and is not an acceptable defence in court.
Canadian courts consistently reject as nonsense arguments based on pseudolaw. Additionally, using pseudolaw in a defence can have serious negative consequences, including financial penalties or jail time. The use of pseudolaw as a defence should be avoided at all costs, and it is always best to consult a lawyer for legal advice.
For more information on the phenomenon of pseudolaw, please read this paper written up by our lawyers at Armoured Suits.