Legal basis for Tucker’s Town takeover failed to follow 'due process'
A Bermudian historian said the compulsory purchase of land in Tucker’s Town could be branded a land grab despite the creation of laws to allow it.
Theodore Francis told the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses yesterday that the island’s political system in the 1920s was designed to benefit a wealthy white minority and the purchases should be viewed through that lens.
Dr Francis said: “Legality must be understood historically.
“There is such a thing as just and unjust laws, unfair laws, unethical laws and even immoral laws.
“The fact that laws have changed throughout historical times indicates that people have the capacity to evaluate law, see if it is truly in service of all members of a society, see if it is being fairly applied and then re-evaluate those laws.”
Dr Francis was speaking after the Commission heard evidence from Canadian historian Duncan McDowall last month, who argued that the terms “land grab” and “land theft” were inappropriate because a legal process was followed.
Legislation passed by the House of Assembly in August 1920 allowed a compulsory purchase order for the Bermuda Development Company to take over Tucker’s Town for tourism development.
But Dr Francis insisted that Dr McDowall put too great an emphasis on the legal framework and not enough on the context of its creation.
He said: “Dr McDowall gives too much credence to the rectitude and morality of laws which were not created in a free democratic context or a context in which all islanders had equal sense of input into the construction of those laws.
“Furthermore he seems to ignore how Bermudian legality and politics have operated.”
Dr Francis said Dr McDowall highlighted due process and transparency, but the process was created by “a class of people who wanted to eliminate and remove due process”.
He highlighted an article written by Bermuda barrister and Attorney-General TM Dill in 1932 for an international legal journal.
The article said that restrictions on who was eligible to vote or run for office were made stricter at the same time abolition came into effect “to guard against the too-sudden acquisition of political privileges by the newly-freed coloured folk, and has never since been altered”.
Dr Francis added: “It was done for racial purposes in order to prevent a recently emancipated group of people from getting political privilege and in order to maintain the status quo of white males owning the majority of power.
“During the 1920s, when the Bermuda Development Company Acts were passed, this political situation was still in force, a political situation that reduced the opportunities for ’newly freed coloured folk’ to get political power.”
He added: “Essentially what they were constructing is a political society whereby white people hold a majority or monopoly of power – essentially, white supremacy.”
Dr Francis said descriptions of the Tucker’s Town community as “undeveloped” and “backwards” also needed to be viewed from a racial perspective.
He added the terminology was frequently used to marginalise black people in Bermuda and overseas.
Dr Francis said: “There’s this notion that whiteness is always this improving factor.
“When whites had an initiative or a set of desires, they say it will be good for people of colour and if you resist this initiative for whatever reason, you are somehow backwards, you somehow lack understanding, you are somehow impertinent.”
He added that, despite claims of transparency, much of the legal framework for the compulsory purchase was developed behind closed doors in meetings where minutes were not taken.
The hearing continues.