Russell Porisky was convicted of tax evasion, evading the GST, and counselling others to evade their taxes after spending years using his company, Paradigm Education Group, to hold seminars and sell books and DVDs that claimed taxation is a form of slavery.
His partner, Elaine Gould, was convicted of tax evasion.
Porisky advocated a theory that centerd around what he described as a "natural person." He argued the government's legal definition of a person — someone who votes, owns property, receives benefits and pays taxes — is artificial, and by merely declaring themselves "natural" people, his followers could avoid paying their taxes.
They were convicted in 2012, but appealed on several grounds, including that they should have been tried by a jury, rather than by a judge alone.
The B.C. Court of Appeal released a split 2-1 decision Monday overturning the pair's convictions, concluding the process surrounding their election was too confusing and complicated to know whether they received the type of trial they wanted.
Justice Mary Saunders said the right of a trial by jury is too significant to allow any ambiguity.
"I do not consider that it can be said with any confidence that Mr. Porisky received the mode of trial he desired," wrote Saunders, who reached the same conclusion for Gould.
"In my view, Ms. Gould's trial was incurably tangled with Mr. Porisky's. ... The verdict against her cannot stand."
Saunders noted much of the confusion can be attributed to the fact that Porisky and Gould eventually became self-represented and navigated the process without the help of a lawyer. When they did have a lawyer, Saunders said, they elected trial by jury, but later it appeared they may have changed their minds.
At trial, a B.C. Supreme Court judge concluded the couple failed to claim a net income of $1.1 million between 2004 and 2008 and together owed about $225,000 in unpaid taxes.
Porisky was sentenced to nearly four and a half years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $274,815, while Gould was handed a six-month conditional sentence and fined $27,434.
Federal authorities have also gone after Porisky's students, and a number of them have already been convicted, both before and after Porisky's trial, and sentenced to time in custody.
This past January, Gerald Blerot was convicted by Saskatchewan's Court of Queen's Bench for tax evasion and counselling others to evade their taxes. The court heard Blerot gave seminars advocating Porisky's Paradigm Education Group's theory, and the judge hearing the case concluded Porisky was likely Blerot's mentor.
Graydon Tyskerud and his son Matthew Tyskerud were convicted in B.C.'s provincial court last year for several charges related to tax evasion, and both received conditional sentences and fines. A ruling connected to the case noted the men attended courses put on by Paradigm Education Group.
The judge in the Tyskeruds' case noted "a large number" of people who were students of Paradigm and Russell Porisky have been convicted of tax evasion in recent years, and many of them have been sentenced to jail.
Another student of Porisky's, a B.C. dentist named Eva Sydel, also claimed she was a "natural person" when she was charged with tax evasion. She was convicted and sentenced in 2007 to 18 months in jail.
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