NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Attorney General Carl Bethel has fired back at human rights attorney Fred Smith, calling his legal letter accusing the government of discrimination “nebulous and offensive”.
Bethel maintained all Hurricane Dorian survivors, including shantytown residents, have received the full benefit of government resources, and access to aid from the international community.
The attorney general furthered many of Smith’s clients – referring to Abaco shantytown residents engaged in judicial review action against the government – will likely benefit from the proposed $6.4 million Family Relief site in Abaco.
As for the existing shantytown injunction, Bethel said the removal of debris from devastated areas could not “in any way shape or form” violate the Supreme Court order given environmental and building laws.
“Those houses constructed in shantytown areas of the Mudd and Pigeon Pea, in particular, were decimated by powerful forces of nature, an event that could not have been foreseen or predicted,” Bethel wrote.
He continued: “As you would be aware, in addition to environmental concerns caused by the deposit of noxious substances and other pollutants into the environment, there is the very real prospect that human remains are located among the debris and rubble.
“These remains have to be located, recovered and processed according to the highest international and humanitarian standards.”
Bethel noted the Building Regulations Act further provided for the minister to have “special emergency powers” to demolish and remove structures that were irreparably dangerous by disaster.
He accused Smith of using the legal letter to deploy unjustified and insulting allegations against the government, and challenged the human rights attorney to cite one example of any official act to encourage violence against his clients or a specific group of people.
“There have never been any lynch mobs in The Bahamas, and the metaphorical reference trivializes the serious historical injustice done to people of color in the United States and elsewhere,” Bethel wrote.
Bethel’s letter continued: “Whether you agree with the statements or actions of the Prime Minister or the Government, no one has encouraged any violence against anyone. Dorian survivors (your clients among them) have been treated with great humanitarian concern, and given the benefit of the full resources of the Government, as well as access to the assistance provided by the international community.”
Smith represents 177 shantytown residents in their judicial review action of the government’s decision to eradicate shantytowns.
In a letter on behalf of his clients, Smith urged the government to respect the rule of law, and further outlined limitations to government powers as it related to its prohibition to build order, and intent to compulsorily acquire the Shanty Town land in Abaco.
Smith also accused Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis of heeding to the cries of “the lynch mob” – pointing to recent statements he claims seek to link the occupation of shanty town land with “illegal” migration.
Minnis announced he had directed Bethel to compulsorily acquire shantytown land in Abaco during his first contribution to Parliament since the deadly storm’s passage.
The prime minister also warned undocumented migrants, whom he referred to as “illegals”, to leave the country voluntarily or be forced to leave.
Days later, Minnis was shown kicking down the door of a structure in the Sand Banks shantytown in Treasure Cay, Abaco.
The prime minister reportedly told the Nassau Guardian he wanted to emphasize his desire to have all buildings in the shantytown torn down.
In his letter, the human rights attorney asked Minnis “to desist from further inflaming the fuels of violence in so many forms against our clients”.
For his part, Bethel said Smith’s suggestion bordered on defamatory despite what he called the outspoken lawyer’s “usual incursion into sensational and incendiary” language.
The attorney general said the government did not accept Smith’s analysis of the Planning and Sub-Division Act as it related to the shantytown construction ban, but noted Smith had conceded the existing injunction effectively blocked any rebuild in those areas.
Smith had argued the shantytown matter was sub judice; however, Bethel maintained the human rights lawyer has constantly overridden the rule in his statements to the media on legal issues.
He said Smith’s letter was clearly written with a view to publication and influencing public opinion.
“The sub judice rule, properly understood, means that the court’s role should not be ursurped by others making public statements about how the issues or a matter before a court should be dealt with,” Bethel’s letter read.
“No one in the Executive has done that.”
Bethel said the government was well aware of the process to compulsorily acquire land.
He said the process was not formally commenced by an executive statement; however, he maintained the public purpose required by the Acquisition of Land Act is defined to mean “any purpose authorized by Parliament”.
“The attribution to the Prime Minister or to the Government of being agitated by various factors or having considering certain matters for adopting any positions, is purely speculative and conjecture, based on your own unsubstantiated allegations,” Bethel’s letter read.
“It is irresponsible and without rational bias to suggest that whatever is being said in the ‘market-place’ automatically influences Government decision-making.”
It continued: “Persons are entitled to their views in a free and open democracy, and the views of a particular group has no more cogency or pull upon the collective consciousness than any other view, and cannot dictate Government’s actions.”