Opposition members removed after defying Speaker’s authority
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March 4, 2011
Opposition members removed after defying Speaker’s authority

Members of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) were forcibly removed from the House of Assembly yesterday after they defied the authority of the Speaker, Hendrick Alexander.{{more}}

The drama started when Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves asked that the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2011, be read for the first time.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace immediately stood and said he was doing so under Rule 59, which concerns the withdrawal of a bill. At this point, he called on the Prime Minister to withdraw the Bill.

“I do so Mr.Speaker, because I believe sincerely that this piece of legislation and indeed Mr.Speaker, the amendment to the procedures to the Criminal Procedure Bill, which we dealt the last time we were here, both infringe on rights, infringes our freedom and threatens our democracy. Therefore, I call on the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, to withdraw the Bill,” said Eustace.

Following his brief address, Eustace refused to sit.

The Speaker asked, “That’s it? You still standing. That’s it?”

“Yes, Mr.Speaker, I’m still standing,” responded Eustace.

This caused the Speaker to ask Eustace to please take his seat.

The Speaker then told Eustace that he had made a request and as a result, he expected that he (Eustace) would receive a response. The Speaker also told Eustace that he could not have two persons standing at the same time.

“Honourable member, could you please take your seat. Having made your request, I believe you expect a response. Could you kindly take your seat,” the Speaker appealed.

Eustace again asked the Speaker to have the Prime Minister indicate whether he would withdraw the Bill.

At this point, the Prime Minister said from his seat: “But you have to sit down.”

The Speaker then reiterated: “Honourable member, honourable member, I am requesting of you as Speaker of this honourable House that you take your seat, while the Prime Minister responds to this matter. As you are aware, we cannot have two persons speaking on the floor at the same time. So I am asking you to take your seat, if this matter has to be addressed.”

Leader of the Opposition suspended and asked to leave

Alexander, after failing to have Eustace oblige to his request, warned that he would ask him to leave the Chamber immediatelly if he failed to take his seat.

The Prime Minister interjected and highligted an issue of discipline, that Senator Vynnette Frederick was taking his photo as well as that of the Leader Opposition without permission.

Gonsalves also asked that Speaker ask the police guard the Mace, since Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown St. Claire Leacock had changed his seat.

Leacock, on a point of order, told the Speaker he had no intention of interfering with the Mace. He remarked that the Prime Minister’s insinuation was out of order.

The Prime Minister responded that he was gratified that that was not Leacock’s intention.

Leacock at this stage called on the Prime Minister to withdraw the statement.

But Member of Parliament for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings joined the debate and drew attention to a situation in the past when he was kicked out of the House for something similar. He also joined in asking the Prime Minister to withdraw his statement.

A heated argument ensued, during which the Prime Minister withdrew his statement.

The Speaker asked that a motion be made to remove Eustace, which done by the Prime Minister.

The Speaker also ruled that the Leader of the Opposition be suspended from the House for the rest of Thursday’s sitting of the House.

At approximately 10:30 a.m. the Speaker then suspended the House until the Leader of the Opposition left the House.

Opposition Members forcibly removed

However, when the House resumed at 10:55 a.m., Eustace was still present in the House, having ignored the requests of police officers to leave. He was surrounded by the other members of the Opposition who had formed a human shield around him.

The Speaker then asked members of the House, except the Leader of the Opposition to take their seats; a request the opposition members ignored.

The Speaker then asked police officers present in the House to forcibly remove the members of the Opposition.

Following the Speaker’s instructions, the police officers tried to persuade the opposition members to leave, but after repeated requests, the law enforcement officers eventually lost patience and some members of the opposition were physically removed.

As they were pushed out, two members of the Opposition, MP Daniel Cummings and Senator Vynnette Frederick sat in the doorway in an attempt from preventing the doors to the chamber from closing.

The two were joined in their actions by MPs Nigel Stephenson, Roland Matthews and Dr. Godwin Friday.

The police eventually succeeded in removing the opposition members forcibly.

But once the doors were closed, they were banged on by persons on the outside.

While Eustace, Leacock, MP Terrence Ollivierre, Frederick, Matthews, and Stephenson were able to walk from the House, Cummings and Friday were lifted out by the lawmen.

Eustace says they were manhandled

In an interview on Nice Radio after he left the House, Eustace said he knew the rules of the house, and therefore knew what would happen when he refused to sit down.

He said in carrying out the order to remove the Opposition members forcibly, they were “manhandled” by the plice.

“Several people were thrown on the ground, including Vynnette and Mr.Cummings and Dr. Friday. They were on the floor. And then they continued and eventually they threw Cummings down the stairs. That’s how he got injured. His left leg seems to be badly damaged, his left leg, ankle seem to be damaged and he also had damage to his shoulder,” Eustace said.

“Vynnette, somebody stood on Vynnette’s shin bone, stood up on her. They even tossed my daughter on the ground up there too, you know, because she was coming out through the same area we were coming out from. …So when they threw us out, all hell break loose.”

Eustace said the Bill has been sent to a Select Committee, but the Opposition is not interested in sitting on a Select Committee; they are, he said, interested in having the Bill withdrawn.

Eustace added that while some police officers tried to exercise some caution, others were “very crude”. He decribed one particular police officer as being “very brutal”.

A subversion of the principles that govern the country

When the House resumed at 11:12 a.m. Prime Minister Gonsalves said he is currently the longest serving member of the House, and what had witnessed had never before occurred in the Parliament of this country.

“The reason why we have never seen something like this is that every elected member hitherto always respected the dignity of this House. Every member hitherto, more importantly, respected the dignity and the rights of every individual citizen,” said Gonsalves, noting that St.Vincent and the Grenadines has a representative democracy, and Members of Parliament were put there by the people.

He said Vincentians had witnessed a subversion by the Opposition of the principles that govern the country.

Gonsalves told the Speaker, there was no necessity for him to entertain the Leader of the Opposition, but he did. Gonsalves said when Eustace called on him to withdraw the Bill, he (Eustace) was in no position to do that, because under the Constituition, it is only the mover of the Bill, which was he, Gonsalves, who had the right to withdraw it.

“Clearly Mr. Speaker, they came here collectively, as they would say on the streets, ‘to mek a bad’. They realize that the people do not support their protest and one can guage from what is happening outside. This is the third time, the third failure so they want as again, as the boys would say on the block, ‘they came here to ramaje’,” , which Gonsalves said is not the business of Parliament.

Gonsalves indicated that it is not the intention of the Government to withdraw or shelve the Bill. He said it would be sent to a Select Committee.

All the other matters on the order paper were completed before the House was adjourned to Tuesday, March 22, 2011.