Protests currently being held in St Vincent and the Grenadines, especially those in front the building that houses the Electoral Office are in breach of the Public Order Act of St Vincent and the Grenadines, but have been allowed to continue.
The Public Order Act says that you cannot have a public meeting within 200 yards of the House of Assembly Building within specified hours or within 200 yards of the head office of all ministries. The head office of a ministry in this case being the Financial Complex on Bay Street.
Speaking during a press conference at Cabinet Room on Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the protests that are being staged daily in front the Electoral Office are within 200 yards of the Financial Complex.
“…by and large, the police have allowed protests even when those protests are clearly in breach of the Public Order Act and I encourage all concerned to read the Public Order Act, Chapter 396 of the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Gonsalves.
He added that apart from protesting within the 200 yards of the Financial Complex, “a protester or protesters” on Tuesday, assaulted, threatened and intimidated Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb when she was leaving her office while a protester sprayed the letters ‘NDP’ on the walls of the Electoral Building.
The Prime Minister said that traditionally, Vincentians are a peace loving people and the members of the police force recognise this.
“That is why when people are protesting, even when then are committing unlawful acts or breaking the law, the police have been restrained in the exercise of their authority and clearly they have determined in their approach to temper firmness with sensitivity.”
Gonsalves said at this point, it is for the management of the police force to consider whether or not their embrace of sensitivity has been such it might have softened the firmness.
Gonsalves said on Tuesday when the Supervisor of Elections was leaving her office that she was assaulted threatened and intimidated by a person or persons who came off the protest line.”
He said if there is that occurrence, “the police is obviously enjoined to ensure that there is no recurrence of that and to take appropriate steps in accordance with the law.”
“…the Supervisor of Elections was intimidated and people have behaved in a manner that is unruly and the police have the authority so to disperse individuals and to ask you to move elsewhere. That’s under the Public Order Act,” said Gonsalves.
Section 6 of the Public Order Acts says, “for removing doubts it is hereby declared that no person has a right to hold a meeting in a public place.” A meeting means a meeting held for the purpose of the discussion of matters of public interest or for the purpose of the expression of views on such matters.
“So if you hold up placards in relation to any matter and you gathering it’s a public meeting …,” said Gonsalves.
He said that police have been firm and sensitive but persons who are engaging in protest must know that when the boundaries are crossed and the police decide to be firm that you must follow the police’s instructions. He said that while persons may decide voluntarily that they may pay the price of the law, you can’t decide that then declare yourself a martyr or that nobody can touch you because you are an American citizen.
On Wednesday NDP protester Luzette King was removed from the site of the protest on Bay Street and charged for, “causing inconvenience to the public in the exercise of common rights, to with, by sitting in the public road hindering the free flow of traffic contrary to section 282 of the criminal code of chapter 171 of the revised edition of the laws of SVG 2009.
King is an American citizen.
Said Gonsalves, “…apparently if you live in America and you become and American citizen, when you come back here, you are inviolable because you are an American citizen. In other words, the imperium of belief in the supremacy of Americanism gets into your own head, to tell you how these people are delusional, that you then become and untouchable.”
The PM said that Section 67 of the Criminal Code Chapter 171 says, “when three or more persons assemble with intent to commit an offence or being assembled with intent to carry out some common purpose conduct themselves in such a manner as to cause persons in the neighbourhood reasonably to fear that the persons so assembled will commit a breach of the peace, or will by such assembly needlessly and without reasonable occasion provoke other persons to commit a breach of the peace, there are guilty of an unlawful assembly. It is immaterial that the initial assembling was lawful if being assembled they conduct themselves with a common purpose in such manner as aforesaid”.
He stressed that a person who takes part in an unlawful assembly is guilty of an offence and liable of imprisonment of one year.