In a clear reference to the poolside party at Bayside Towers, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley made it abundantly clear that it cannot be a case of different strokes for different folks, and that he expects “serious and sustained law enforcement” with respect to the Covid-19 regulations.
Addressing a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s yesterday, the Prime Minister stated: “I said to my colleague (National Security Minister Stuart Young), where Trinidad and Tobago is, we expect that there would be firm and sustained law enforcement for those who believe that the only thing they will accept and respond to is being restrained by a police officer.
“And as I say that, let me join this conversation now, in Trinidad and Tobago we expect that the law will be applied to every person regardless of race, colour, creed, class or social standing. Because those who believe that they are beyond the reach of this virus, yuh could say so for yuhself and that may suit you in comforting your irresponsible conduct, but in so doing you pose a threat to the rest of our national community...to the little children who are helpless...to the persons with underlying medical conditions...to those elder citizens who are depending entirely on not being exposed in the simplest way. They request through me, through the Minister of National Security, through the Police Service that we ensure that there is an improvement in the conduct of our nationals where the law applies across the board. Especially to those whose priority is partying. Persons who are partying and spreading this virus must feel the full brunt of the law.
“It is not for me to tell the Commissioner of Police who to arrest and who not to arrest and how to apply the law. But as Prime Minister I could tell the Commissioner of Police that the law must be applied to protect us in Trinidad and Tobago, from those who are not prepared to listen and are not prepared to fight the fight that we want to fight to bring this virus under control. We can do no more but we will do the best with what we have.”
The Prime Minister also requested the National Security Minister, “an attorney at law,” to enter the national conversation on whether there was authority for the police to act on private premises or common compounds.
Minister Young said there were a number of laws which were open to the Police Service—Section 133 of the Public Health Ordinance—that allows the police to intervene in circumstances where there is risk to other people’s lives, “especially in a situation where we are in a pandemic. “The police can intervene in those circumstances and it does not become a debate as to whether it is public or private (space). In fact, the Commissioner had pointed it out in April of this year and he was quite right.”
Police have the right
to intervene on
In April, the CoP was emphatic as he stated in a release: “To those who believe that the police do not have the authority to stop activities on private property that can affect lives during Covid-19, yes we can.”
The National Security Minister said: “Of course, the police would be very cautious about getting involved in private property as they rightly should be. But they do have jurisdiction. In certain instances they can be invited by others to come into the private jurisdiction and enforce the law...But there are a number of common law charges and common law offences where they can be called upon to protect persons if there is harm and they are in harm’s way. The conversation has been had with the TTPS and they would continue to enforce the law. They have been put in difficult circumstances and they will continue to do what they need to do. And as the Prime Minister said, and I would just like to join him, no one is above the law. The law applies to everyone and you can’t say ‘well, I am in a private setting and I can put everybody’s lives at risk and you, the police, have no jurisdiction over me.’ The police will not accept that.”
Earlier in the news conference, the Prime Minister said while it was not feasible to “lock up everybody”, he had told the National Security Minister that anyone “who is playing the fool and who is breaking the law, and breaching the regulations, we only have left serious and sustained law enforcement. Because there are people in this community who only understand the heavy hand. As the Prime Minister I said to you in the beginning that we did not accept the advice of persons to have a State of Emergency and remove the (situation where) the police is constrained by the Constitution and allow the police to act without control. Because it was not going to improve the position of the individual at the personal level to respond to the virus...It (an SoE) would not have changed the circumstance of what is required of the individual.”
Caricom meets on border issue
The Prime Minister said he had a virtual meeting with his Caricom colleagues on Friday on this matter of how they should relate to the external community and how to address the border closure.
He said everyone is requiring some element of Covid testing to be done: either a test before departure or a test on arrival, as well as a measure of quarantine.
He said the conclusion at the end of this conversation was that the region was not in a position to open its borders fully, or at all, in some instances.
“For those countries who have opened their borders there are some very strict requirements and they are selective as to who comes in and from where, depending on how the virus is raging in different areas (of the world),” the Prime Minister said.
He said Trinidad and Tobago still has to maintain a closed border.
Young assured people with permanent residence who were currently outside of the jurisdiction that their permanent residence would not be revoked.
Young said 239 tickets had been issued for people not wearing masks.
The Prime Minister also invited Young to explain High Court Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh’s judgment on Covid-19, in view of what he saw as a misunderstanding on the part of the media.
Young said it was incorrect to suggest that the public regulations had been struck down.
He said the court upheld that the regulations were not unconstitutional and the Government was quite right to continue to make these regulations.
He, however, said the court found that certain guidelines and protocols were not part of the regulations, and created uncertainty.
The court noted that in order to have a criminal offence, there must be certainty in the description of what has been breached.
He said there was also an “obiter” “which the media and others grabbed onto”, in which the court said one had to be careful about using regulations to establish criminal offences and if you are going to do this, it should be part of Parliament.
“However, not in these circumstances,” the court stated, Young pointed out.