Opposition Leader’s tenure in parliament questioned
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April 24, 2018

Opposition Leader’s tenure in parliament questioned

THE CONSTITUTIONALITY of the tenure in Parliament of the Leader of the Opposition and Member for the Northern Grenadines is being questioned.

The question has been raised by pharmacist and social commentator Matthew Thomas, who in a letter to the editor (see page 8) questioned whether Dr Godwin Friday, who has been an MP since 2001, has a Canadian passport and if so, by being a member of Parliament, has he violated the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG)?

Thomas’ questions come two months after Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, at a rally at Argyle, called on Friday to tell the people of SVG why he has a Canadian passport. He likened the opposition leader to a man who is betting on a horse race and bets on two horses because he is not sure which horse will win.

“Friday must tell you why is it, that if he wants to be Prime Minister of this country, why is it he has a Canadian passport,” Gonsalves said on February 17 at a rally to celebrate the first anniversary of the Argyle International Airport.

Thomas in his letter said the Prime Minister did not go far enough in his comments.

“To simply say, it’s time that … [Friday] gives up his Canadian passport … is an insult to the electorate. It is not a choice of Dr Friday. It is a Constitutional requirement. He owes it to the electorate to give an explanation…,” Thomas said.

Yesterday, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Dr Friday admitted that he holds dual citizenship,but said that does not prevent him from being a member of Parliament in SVG.

The Constitution of SVG under Section 25 (Qualifications for Representatives and Senators), Subsection (1), states: Subject to the provisions of Section 26 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected as a Representative if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he – (a) Is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of 21 years and upwards.

Section 26 (Disqualifications for Representatives and Senators) (1) states: No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator if he – (a) Is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.

The Canadian Oath of Citizenship is a statement recited and signed by those who apply to become citizens of Canada. Administered at a ceremony presided over by a designated official, the oath is a promise or declaration of loyalty to the Canadian monarch and a promise to abide by Canada’s laws and uphold the duties of a Canadian citizen; upon signing the oath, citizenship is granted to the applicant.

The Canadian oath says, “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

“Did you just discover that I am a Canadian citizen? Well that’s not news. I have always said that I am a Canadian citizen and I have lived in Canada for 20 years. I am a Canadian citizen, I have a Canadian passport. What’s the big deal about that? I am a Commonwealth citizen,” Dr Friday told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday.

Friday said his being a member of Parliament while a Canadian citizen does not violate the Constitution.

“You have to be a Commonwealth citizen to be a member of Parliament. I am a Commonwealth citizen in Canada and a Commonwealth citizen in St Vincent. How can that be a disqualifier? It’s a non-issue,” he declared.

However, according to a constitutional expert who practices law before the local bar, the development is an interesting one.

“… It makes a lot of sense in that it brings into question, Dr Friday’s tenure as a member of Parliament, a position he has held since 2001. It seems to me that Section 25 is subject to Section 26, which means that the contents of Section 26 take precedence over those of Section 25,” the lawyer said.

“It is a serious thing because it may be a breach of the Constitution, [Dr Friday] being born in St Vincent and migrating to Canada as an adult could only have obtained Canadian citizenship by pledging his allegiance to that country. It seems to me that if he gained Canadian citizenship as a child he would have been helped by Section 25, but as it stands there is some merit in Matthew’s article,” the legal expert added.

When contacted yesterday, Matthew Thomas said he investigated the issue after he heard the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves make the statement about Friday’s citizenship. “I point out by our Constitution, that if you hold dual citizenship, you’re not eligible if this second citizenship is by your own act, you can’t be a representative,” said Thomas while adding that Friday should have commented on the issue when the Prime Minister spoke about it in February.

“He had a right to come out and explain that in February or in the first place he should not have gone into Parliament under those conditions, but then after it has made the rounds in February at a political meeting,… he hasn’t said anything,” Thomas commented while adding that he withdrew his support for the NDP in 2010 because he does not think they are a serious entity.

“…In 2015, I did not vote and until now, until you have an election and there is not another party I would not vote. I would not vote for the Unity Labour Party (either),” said Thomas.