Wednesday, August 24, 2011

State of Emergency An Abuse of The Constitution


I do not support a state of emergency and the suspension of my democratic and constitutional rights just so the police can do routine police raids. This state of emergency by the People's Partnership Government is ill advised and an abuse of our constitution. The state of emergency has yielded nothing to suggest it is worthwhile, arresting a few hundred persons and seizing a few grams of weed and cocaine does not justify the suspension of our constitution. Denying citizens of their constitutional and democratic rights is a serious issue and is not something that should be done flippantly. I heard the Attorney General justify the state of emergency because of the expected rise in violence that would have occurred because of a $22 million TT drug bust. My response to that is so what? In 2007 the US Justice Department made a drug bust of $45 million US dollars, TT $289 million and to date there has been no declaration of a state of emergency in the United States of America, a country which has more guns than T&T in any given state due to their constitution granting their citizens the right to bare arms!

Mr. Martin Daly made a very valid point on TV6 news on Tuesday night, one does not call a state of emergency to seize six guns, a few grams of illegal drugs and a hundred or so people. Even if I am to be generous and give them credit for finding to date just under ten fire arms with some ammunition and the few grams of drugs (no major drug or arms bust as of day three, no big drug financier arrested), is it that the hundred or so persons arrested are all going to be charged collectively for these few guns, ammunition and drugs? I ask because the government is beating their chest in triumph and claiming success in arresting/detaining these people, but has any of the legal luminaries in this country asked what crime these people have committed? Is it that once you have been held by the police under a farcical state of emergency you are automatically guilty? Have any of these men been taken before a court of law, successfully and judicial tried and convicted for a crime that will see them be locked away for a very long time? And if they have not been charged and tried by a court of law why is the government claiming victory? Is the government preempting the conviction of these men who have been detained? Is that legal and constitutional? Does anyone not find it strange that under a state of emergency where the government has the authority to go after any and every criminal that it is only men being loaded into the police vehicles? Are we a nation where it is only the male homo sapien that commits crime? If that is the case then our country is certainly replete with research material for any discerning anthropologist.

What is even more worrying is the fact that there was no need for a state of emergency when our Parliament inclusive of both Government and Opposition members passed in Parliament the Anti Gang Legislation which gives the police the authority to adequately address the crime situation in T&T without calling a state of emergency and depriving law abiding citizens of their constitutional rights. Some of the police's authority under the act include but are not limited too :-

* The authority to arrest without a warrant any person he has reasonable cause to believe is a gang member or has reasonable cause to believe has committed an offence under this Act.
* The authority to enter with a warrant issued by a magistrate any dwelling house if he has reasonable cause to believe a gang member will be found in that dwelling house.
* The authority to enter "without" a warrant any place or premises not used as a dwelling house and search the same if he has reasonable cause a gang member will be found in such place or premises
* Notwithstanding any law to the contrary a police officer may detain without a warrant for a period not exceeding 24 hours any person who he reasonably suspects having committed an offense under this Act
* If a senior officer has reason to believe that detention of a person without charge is necessary to preserve evidence relating to an offence or to obtain such evidence by questioning the detained person the senior officer may apply to a magistrate for a detention order not exceeding 144 hours (6 days).

The sad part about this entire fiasco is the Opposition the main body responsible for keeping the government in check seemed to have been asleep on the job. However I was heartened to see Dr. Rowley finally espouse what I have been saying in my personal capacity for the past few days, that this state of emergency was not needed, is excessive and just simply does not make sense when we have the necessary legislation in place for the police to deal with the criminal element. True to form the Honourable Prime Minister has immediately criticized Dr. Rowley's claims saying the Anti Gang Legislation could not have been used by the government to carry out the current exercises under the state of emergency as the act is specifically geared towards 'gangs' and gang members. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is simply a case of the Prime Minister not only being pedantic with legal jargon but also insulting the intelligence of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. According to Cambridge's Online dictionary one of the definitions for a gang is "a group of criminals who work together". It's definition for a gangster is "a member of an organized group of criminals". What part of these definitions do not apply to the criminals operating in the various hot spots in T&T? They work together and consort with each other, they have a sophisticated communication network that includes BBming and texting, and they are well organized in the execution of their illicit activities. It therefore stands to reason that the Anti Gang Act was fully capable of being utilized to carry out the current operations of the security forces, more importantly the police service and not the army!

In addition the Anti Gang Act further states "For the purpose of this Act, it shall not be necessary to show that a particular gang, possesses, acknowledges or is known by a particular name, insignia, flag, means of recognition, secret signal or code, creed, belief, structure, leadership or command structure, method of operation or criminal enterprise, concentration or speciality, membership, age or other qualification, initiation rites, geographical or territorial situs, boundary or location, or other unifying mark, manner, protocol or method of expressing or indicating its membership when the gang's existence can be demonstrated by a preponderance of other admissible evidence, but any evidence reasonably tending to show or demonstrate the existence of or membership in a gang shall be admissable in any action or proceedings brought under this ACT!" In the Act a gang member is stated as "a person who belongs to a gang, or a person who knowingly acts in capacity of an agent for an accessory to, or voluntarily associates himself with any gang-related activity.....". The act further states that "gang-related activity means any criminal activity, enterprise, pursuit, or undertaking in relation to any of the offences listed in the First Schedule acquiesced in, or consented or agreed to, or directed, ordered, authorized, requested or ratified.

What all of this means is all the state has to do is prove one has committed an offence or engages in "gang-related activity" as is listed in the First Schedule of the Anti Gang Act and you can be convicted under this legislation as a gang member once you commit a gang related offence''! Some of the gang-related activity in the First Schedule are but not limited to :-

* Possession of imitation firearms in pursuance of any criminal offence
* Larceny of a motor vehicle
* Arson
* Receiving stolen goods
* Possession of bullet-proof vest, firearm or ammunition for benefit of gang
* Demanding money with menaces
* Murder
* Shooting or wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, unlawful wounding
* Robbery, robbery with aggravation, robbery with violence
* Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
* Possession and use of a firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life
* Possession of firearm or ammunition without licence certificate or permit
* Trafficking a dangerous drug or being in possession of a dangerous drug for the purpose of trafficking
* Rape & grievous sexual assault
* Kidnapping & Kidnapping for ransom

With the above in mind I cannot fathom nor understand how our Prime Minister, our head of government, can publicly state that the Anti Gang Act could not have been used to deal with escalating crime situation which would have seen the police carrying out the very duties they are currently carrying out while our constitution and our democratic rights remained intact. I am very concerned by the fact that we had valid Parliamentary legislation in place to be used by the security services in the full operation of our constitution and rather than use this available legislation and the resources available to it to mobilize the police service in executing their duties, the government instead chooses to adopt what is known internationally as one of the most drastic acts a government can ever perpetuate against it's own citizens, a state of emergency. What is even more worrying is that our Head of State the President does not seem to have the necessary legal advisory team in place to review present legislation etc, which ought to be utilized to deal with a situation before calling a state of emergency.

Why is the government so hell bent on justifying this state of emergency when the results of it thus far shows that it is clearly not worthwhile as these so called 'successes' could have been achieved with a normal police raid under the Anti Gang Act? Why is it that the government seem to be engaging in a campaign of misinformation regarding the legislation and laws that were available to it as well as the capacity of said legislation to deal with the crime problem without interfering and suspending our country's constitution? No government should be allowed to flippantly call a state of emergency when all evidence suggests that they had absolutely no need too. This is a very dangerous precedent that the government has set and I'm very disappointed that the various legal luminaries and the opposition of this country all seem to have been caught with their pants down and the consequence of that lethargy of our respective political and legal vanguards may very well see the creation of a runaway government drunk on power.

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