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Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Letter: Urban legends are not evidence of graves of Black slaves
Letter to the editor. File

Dear editor:

A certain, no doubt well-intentioned, non-resident is demanding self-funded access to private property that is nearing the end of a lengthy, likely expensive and reportedly careful restoration / renovation project (to be fair and balanced, being undertaken by another, at the moment, non-resident).

The evidentiary basis for that demand? Urban legends.

Unfortunately for James Russell, the party making the demand, “urban legends” are merely hearsay, often many times removed and wholly unattributable. For time-honoured reasons, hearsay is often highly inadmissible as evidence, even when less removed and attributable.

Moreover, neither the historical record nor the laws of economics offer much in the way of support for the legend in question (that Black slaves might be buried there), according to the property owner in an assertion the demander has yet to address, let alone refute.

Likewise unfortunate for the demander, legal authority will be required to overcome the property owner’s rights against trespass.

And the issuance of such an authority will be dependent on the production of sufficient, admissible evidence – a standard that, at present so seems, the demander is unable to meet.

Notwithstanding the documented and considerable investigative work already completed by the property owner – work that has apparently produced nothing to corroborate the legend at issue – Russell insists on being allowed to conduct a further form of investigative work that meets his particular standards, alleging that it will prove or disprove the hearsay.

Problematically, that is not a reliable allegation – for one important reason: it invests far too much in the revelatory powers of the technology to be used.

Despite media hype, ground-penetrating radar merely detects anomalies in the soil, anomalies that could be the result of all manner of occurrences, natural or otherwise.

It is not X-ray technology nor is it a guaranteed grave-finder. Therefore, efforts to oversell its capabilities are to be viewed with extreme caution, at best.

This being the case, then, to what might the property owner look forward in the event that a search of his land is conducted – bearing in mind the demander’s clear bias in favour of the legend in question?

In my humble opinion, he would likely expect to see most / all soil anomalies detected, innocent or otherwise, to be met with excavation demands for greater certainty’s sake.

At considerable expense (to whom, exactly?) and with some jeopardy for the existing infrastructure as well as the work previously conducted. All at the behest of what? Of an uncorroborated urban legend.

As a sober and level-headed society we would be well-advised to not embark on all manner of intrusive, disruptive, expensive and invasive undertakings merely on the strength of one or more urban legends.

One can only imagine the mayhem and costs such minimally justified fishing expeditions would engender to both private citizens and to the public purse, alike.

In the face of concrete evidence of provable provenance? Yes, certainly. Let the wheels of duly diligent research then proceed apace and, if warranted, proper recognition of the site ensue.

But, until James Russell is able to produce some of the foregoing, he would do better to keep his money in hand (or invest it in finding the requisite calibre of evidence) and refrain from trying to foment adverse public sentiment against a legally entitled property owner standing up for his still-extant rights, the same rights on which readers, here, commonly rely.

“Guilty until proven innocent” is not now, nor should it ever be, a standard of guidance for a free and open society.

Those arguing the opposite need only experience its application to themselves to appreciate just how misguided and unjust a world this could be.

Bruce Dickson

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