The Statute Labour Act has its origins in the earliest days of British settlement in Ontario.
In colonial times, many local roads received no government funding and male residents were forced to work on roads and bridges for as much as 12 days a year. Eventually, the number of work days required came to be tied to the assessed value of a settler's property.
Landowners had the option to pay the municipality to hire someone to work on the roads in their place. Refusal to perform statute labour or pay for its value was punishable by up to six days in prison.
It was a July afternoon in 1917, on the 8th Concession of Marmora Township when Samuel Rogers, Edward Storey and road master, James Gallagher were engaged performing their statute labour. While drawing gravel and spreading it on the road, Rogers and Gallagher had quarreled several times, when Rogers suddenly struck Gallagher on the head with his shovel. Gallagher fell to the ground and all attempts to revive him failed.
Upon the arrival of Dr. Bissonette, the coroner, a jury was sworn in and an inquest opened. But for unknown reasons, little evidence was taken, a permit was issued for the burial of the deceased and, Rogers and Storey were summoned to appear as witnesses at an adjourned inquest.
After a complaint by the deceased's brother, Daniel Gallagher, Mr. B,C, Hubbell, J.P. issued a warrant for Rogers' arrest. Following two nights in jail at the town hall, Rogers stood before Magistrates B.C. Hubbell and Wm. Bonter fora preliminary trial.
Dr. Thomson, who had been at the scene, described how Gallagher probably died from a neck fracture caused by the fall. Hugh Farrell reported the prisoner had confessed to the crime but that it was self defense. Edward Storey, the third labourer on the road, was described by a newspaper as "not very bright intellectually and hard to get his evidence."
As a result of the Preliminary trial, the body, which had be buried on Monday, was exhumed on Wednesday and a post-mortem examination held by Drs. Thomson and Crawford. The verdict of the jury was that the accused did not intend to kill the victim, and so recommended that he be tried for man-slaughter, instead of murder.
Marmora Herald in March, 1918 - A Year Later
"Samuel Rogers Acquitted. The assizes opened at Belleville , on Monday, the 4th day of March, 1918 before the Hon. Justice Rose. The case of the King vs Rogers for murder came up for trial on Tuesday and after hearing a lot of evidence and argument, it was given to the jury who were instructed by the Judge to consider whether or not the prisoner committed theoffense in self defense. If so, of course, there would not be any offense. The Jury brought in a verdict of Not Guilty"