As anti-tax guru's fines go unpaid, his bogus ideas are revived in COVID-19 conspiracy circles
Russell Porisky's fines for tax evasion are some of the biggest unpaid penalties in B.C.
Five years after the conviction of a B.C. man who's been called the "Typhoid Mary" of a bogus tax evasion theory that clogged up Canadian courts for years, not a single dime of his fines has been paid.
Russell Porisky taught his pseudolegal secrets for escaping taxation to hundreds of people across the country in the '00s through the Paradigm Education Group in Chilliwack. Dozens of people who followed his method have been prosecuted and convicted for tax evasion.
In 2016, Porisky was sentenced to five and a half years in prison and ordered to pay $259,482 in fines for tax evasion and counselling others to commit fraud.
Today, those penalties account for two of the top 10 largest unpaid court-ordered fines in B.C. in the last decade, a CBC News investigation has found. Nine out of 10 of those defaulted fines appear to be connected to tax-related offences.
Porisky's unpaid fines aren't the only things that linger from his days with Paradigm. The conspiracy-driven ideas he popularized about supposed secrets for immunity from the law are experiencing a comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among anti-mask and anti-lockdown activists.
"There's a lot of people who are trying to prey on public anxiety and ignorance about why it is that these health orders are so important for the community as a whole," Ottawa human rights lawyer Richard Warman told CBC.
"These anti-government gurus have latched on, in a parasitic manner, to the COVID controls that have been put in place in order to protect everyone's health."
Warman is a board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and has been monitoring these figures and groups for decades, as they often intersect with far-right and white supremacist movements. He compares some to Lionel Hutz, the outrageously incompetent lawyer from The Simpsons, but says most are more nefarious.
Spreading 'a disease of ideas'
Legal scholars have grouped these pseudolegal theories together under the banner of the Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument (OPCA).
At the core of these OPCA concepts is the idea that followers are exempt from the authority of government, laws and the courts. Anyone who wants to avoid paying taxes or obtaining their driver's licence, for example, simply needs to learn the right words and phrases.
In a 2016 paper for the Alberta Law Review, researcher Donald Netolitzky described Poritsky as "by far the most successful OPCA guru" of his time.
"These are the Typhoid Marys of the OPCA phenomenon, who spread a disease of ideas as they travelled across Canada, often at great price to their customers, and sometimes, to themselves," wrote Netolitzky, now complex litigant management counsel for the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.
Porisky and the "educators" at Paradigm taught that all someone had to do to get out of paying taxes was to declare themselves a "natural person working in his or her own capacity under private contract for his or her own benefit," an idea the judge who sentenced Porisky described as "nonsensical."
Nonetheless, Porisky recruited about 800 "students" for Paradigm through a multi-level marketing scheme that saw him take a seven per cent cut from the income of every "educator" he brought on to teach the method, according to Netolitzky's research.
Porisky's partner, Elaine Gould, was also convicted in connection with the Paradigm scheme. They both appealed their convictions, but they were upheld in 2019.
'It's all snake oil all the time'
Other OPCA gurus have been equally unsuccessful.
"I'm not aware of any case that they've ever succeeded, and I've been looking at the movement for 25 years now. It's all snake oil all the time," Warman said.
Even so, pseudolegal theories denying the power of public officials to enact COVID-related restrictions — or any laws at all — have been gaining popularity over the last year.
"Basically, these will fail as well. They're just the latest incarnation of these ridiculous pseudolegal ideas," Warman said.
Prominent figures in earlier OPCA movements have popped up once again in the world of anti-maskers. That includes David Kevin Lindsay of Kelowna, another anti-tax guru identified by Netolitzky, who now organizes anti-mask rallies.
New gurus have appeared as well.
There's Christopher James Pritchard of Ontario, who claims the only valid law comes from God in the form of the 10 commandments. Pritchard's arguments have been rejected as frivolous and vexatious as well as just plain "gibberish" by the courts, but he has found a ready audience among COVID-19 conspiracy theorists.
On his website, Pritchard describes himself as "counselor at law" for Mak Parhar, a COVID-19 denier charged with repeatedly violating Canadian quarantine laws after returning from a Flat Earth conference in the U.S. In November, Parhar filed a claim for "trespass" against provincial officials, calling himself "i:man:Mak of the Parhar family" and claiming he is not subject to the Quarantine Act or any other law.
Other pseudolegal groups have become prominent in the movement against COVID-19 restrictions, including Unify the People, a group that claims Canada is an illegitimately constituted country with illegal governments and whose signs frequently appear at anti-mask rallies.
Meanwhile, "common law assemblies" have emerged across Canada throughout the pandemic, claiming to have outlawed local COVID-19 restrictions. That includes the Oceanside Common Law Assembly on Vancouver Island, which has claimed that anyone who imposes rules related to COVID-19 "can face fines and imprisonments."
Warman said it's important for anyone who's tempted by the arguments of these pseudolegal groups or gurus to look into their history of failures and exploitation of desperate people.
"It's unfortunate that the people who are out there who may sometimes be in financial difficulty try and latch onto this. But it's a cement lifesaving ring that's being thrown to them," he said.