Opposition Raises Civil Rights Concerns During Debate On New Police Powers Bill – St. Lucia Times

The content originally appeared on: St. Lucia Times News

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Asserting that the United Workers Party (UWP) did not oppose the Suppression of Escalated Crime Police Powers bill, opposition leader Allen Chastanet raised civil rights concerns on Thursday night, referring to specific aspects of the legislation.

“We are significantly empowering the lower ranks of the police force and using an area to give them those special conditions,” he stated.

Quoting from the bill, Chastanet observed that a police officer who has reason to believe that a criminal offence was committed, is likely to be committed or is being committed on land or in a building within an escalated crime area could access the land or building, enter or remain there for a period that they think fit.

Chastanet and Choiseul MP Bradley Felix, the only two opposition MPs in the parliament, voted against suspending Standing Order 48:2 to allow Pierre to proceed with the remaining stages of the bill at Thursday’s special sitting of the House.

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As a result, Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre accused them of voting ‘against the police’.

But Chastanet declared that the opposition had not opposed the bill but required more time as they received the legislation only that afternoon.

He said that was unfair, especially given the nature of the bill.

The Micoud South told the House that the government had access to other mechanisms, namely a state of emergency for which the constitution requires transparency and accountability..However, Chastanet noted that, ultimately, the Minister of National Security is responsible for all the actions in the escalated crime bill.

Before the police exercise any powers under the bill, the Minister of National Security must pass an order, essentially a statutory instrument, to designate a particular area as an escalated crime zone.

The instrument would prescribe the order’s boundaries and duration.

However Chastanet told the House that unlike the escalated crime bill, parliament is responsible in a state of emergency.

“You have to come to parliament in order to be able to act,” the former Prime Minister told the House.

“It may, potentially, Mr. Speaker, boomerang on us and create more fear and panic because if ordinary officers start executing that authority in an unreasonable way, Mr. Speaker, we will all pay that price for it,” Chastanet warned.

He supported the police commissioner and police officers, acknowledging that they were operating during difficult times.

Chastanet recalled that gang-related crime had plagued Saint Lucia for years, with parliament passing various measures to address the problem.

“Yet, despite all the promise of those laws here we find ourselves again. So you see, Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day it’s not the laws that are going to solve this problem Mr. Speaker. It’s the collective effort of where we all now declare war in crime,” he asserted.

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