As we prepare for the latest Martian explorer to land, it begs a question:
If we do find life *out there*, what would it mean for our legal system?
For years, science fiction authors have contemplated the effects such an encounter could have on a variety of human social institutions – religious, economic, military – but what about the Law?
Well, at least one Martian has found out. Enter Rene Joly, the first Martian to litigate.
First, a few mythic thoughts on the Red Planet:
For starters, a good number of cultures, possibly a majority, associate this planet with war – not just the Romans and Greeks, who called this “wandering star” Aries and Mars respectively.
The Babylonians deemed Him Nergal – God of fire, war and destruction. Later on, Nergal would also become associated with the Underworld, and as such, is sometimes depicted as Ereshkigal’s consort – Ereshkigal being Inanna‘s sister.
Over in the Indus Valley, Mars was called Mangala, and was possibly born of Shiva’s sweat or blood (alternatively, He may have been born from the union of Vishnu’s third Avatar, Varaha, and Bhumi, the Earth). Also called Angaraka, He is a celibate war God, and teacher of the occult; He is sometimes conflated with Shiva’s parthenogenic child, Skanda/Kumara/Karthikeya/Murrigan, take your pick.
For the Egyptians, the planet was Horus of the Horizon, or Her Deshur, Horus the Red. For the Hebrews, the planet obviously couldn’t be a deity – monotheism and all – but they gave the world a name; Ma’adim, the “one who blushes”.
In Southeast Asia, the planet is associated with the Element of Fire, and as such, is called the Fire Star. In Chinese astrology, Mars is a harbinger for “bane, grief, war and murder”.
Finally, there is the ubiquitous, ithyphallic symbol:
For biologists, it represents the XY of the species. For astrologers it represents the planet Mars. For alchemists, it is the symbol for iron (which is red when oxidized).
And for relationship counselors, it’s the place where men come from…
Back to Rene Joly: In 1999, Rene Joly took his case to the Ontario Superior Court.
His contention: The US government had cloned him from debris brought back from a 1960’s Mars mission, and now sought to eliminate him. Asides from the CIA and the US government, Joly also sought damages from the Canadian Government (specifically Art Eggleton, Canada’s then Minister of Defense, who had Joly’s” brain chipped by German soldiers”)), Citibank (who”defrauded him”) and Shoppers Drug Mart (who “replaced his medications with poison”).
Joly, it should be noted, represented himself:
The following are excerpts from the Judge’s ruling (Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Court File Nos. 99-CV-166273 and 99-CV-167339, May 16, 1999):
[para2] Mr. Joly’s claims in these two actions, and in several others not currently before me, all center on his firm assertion that he is not a human being; rather a martian. As I understand them, the nature of his complaints against the numerous defendants who include a number of doctors, medical facilities and government agencies is that they have conspired with the American government in its attempts to eliminate him and have otherwise taken various steps to interfere with his ability to establish himself and live freely as a martian.
[para3] As indicated, there are two actions before me. At the beginning of the hearing Mr. Joly advised me that he has recently commenced a third action against, among others, the Central intelligence Agency, President Clinton and the Honourable Anne McClellan [then the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada] for interfering with his D.N.A. test results that prove that he is, in fact, not human.
[para11] In my opinion there are at lease two reasons why the two Statements of Claim in question ought to be struck and the actions dismissed.
- Neither pleading discloses a cause of action. While conspiracy to do harm to someone is the basis of many actions in this Court there is a fundamental ﬂaw in the position of Mr. Joly. Rule 1.03 defines plaintiff as “a person who commences an action”. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines person as “an individual human being”. Section 29 of the Interpretation Act provides that a person includes a corporation. It follows that if the plaintiff is not a person in that he is neither a human being nor a corporation, he cannot be a plaintiff as contemplated by the Rules of Civil Procedure. The entire basis of Mr. Joly’s actions is that he is a martian, not a human being. There is certainly no suggestion that he is a corporation. I conclude therefore, that Mr. Joly, on his pleading as drafted, has no status before the Court.
- In respect to the motions brought under rule 25.11 I am of the view that the test has been passed in the circumstances of this case. In other words, I am satisfied that the claims are frivolous and vexatious and constitute an abuse of the process of this Court. In addition to the fact that the tort of conspiracy has not been remotely properly pleaded, no damages have been claimed and many of the defendants are not even legal entities capable of being sued. More importantly, with all respect to Mr. Joly and his perception of reality, these actions are patently ridiculous and should not be allowed to continue as they utilize scarce public resources not to mention the time and money of the numerous defendants who have been forced to defend these actions.
[para13] The defendants are entitled to their costs of the actions but it would seem to be that the defence has likely incurred little if any costs in defending the actions.
In other words, Rene Joly’s argument – that he was indeed a Martian – was accepted by the court – but in doing so, he was stripped of any legal recourse, since by his own logic, he was technically not a person…
Plus, in theory, he had to pay the defendants’ legal expenses, though as the Judge surmised, there really weren’t any, given that case was thrown out.
As we enter a Brave New World of synthetic a.i., and possibly alien encounters, it’s not just the traditional pillars of society that stand to be tested, but some of the areas – like the definition of personhood – areas that we often take for granted – that we will have to re-evaluate.
South Korea has already taken the first steps with its South Korean Robot Ethics Charter, which maps out three areas: 1) Manufacturing Standards, 2) Rights and Responsibilities of Users/Owners, and most telling, 3) Right and Responsibilities of Robots. Here are a few provisions of the charter:
Under Korean Law, Robots are afforded the following fundamental rights:
i) The right to exist without fear of injury or death.
ii) The right to live an existence free from systematic abuse.
The following acts are an offense under Korean Law:
i) To deliberately damage or destroy a robot.
ii) Through gross negligence, to allow a robot to come to harm.
iii) It is a lesser but nonetheless serious offense to treat a robot in a way which may be construed as deliberately and inordinately abusive.
Hopefully, alien life will be given the same level of respect…
With that in mind, maybe someday Rene Joly – or the Martians who are sure to follow him – will get a proper day in court.
Until then, I Grok you, Mr. Joly, I Grok you [*]
[*] If you didn’t get that reference, it’s time to read/reread Stranger in a Strange Land,by Robert A. Heinlein. ‘Nuff said.