House passes mandatory evacuations

House passes mandatory evacuations

Opposition members vote against bill

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to make it an offense for an individual to refuse to leave a mandatory evacuation zone, was passed in the House of Assembly yesterday.

The four opposition members voted against the bill, which was passed shortly after 2pm.

Before the vote, Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP Philip Brave Davis said the government was attempting to be creative to comply with the constitution, but insisted it remains problematic.

According to a bill, those who fail to heed an evacuation order within a specified area, island or cay “without justifiable cause to evacuate” — commits an offense liable to a term of imprisonment of one month and/or a fine not exceeding $500.

In instances where refusal to adhere to the evacuation order is likely to imperil the life of another, imprisonment for three months and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000.

If passed, the bill will also authorize the government to impose curfews and prohibit travel in areas declared mandatory evacuation zones.

It would also prohibit the movement of anyone within a specified area when necessary.

The opposition has referenced article 29 of the constitution that authorizes the governor general to make a proclamation of emergency, which allows for the suspension of civil liberties in certain circumstances such as time of war.

The provision is subject to parliamentary oversight.

Davis said while the government has claimed it will not physically remove people from their home, the bill deems someone who fails to evacuate as having committed an offense.

He said this “repugnant to the constitution”.

“Having regard to this order by the prime minister — you should have moved and you did not move — well, I don’t want to move and I have a right to say I don’t want to move, and the constitution gives me that right,” Davis said.

“And therein lies the challenge.”

Rising to his feet, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said: “You don’t have to move and the record will show that that at the end of the day, that all and every effort was made to cause you to move. And So, at the end of the day during the eye of the storm, during the worst of the passage of the storm, when you call for the first responder to come and risk his life, and the life of others, there will further justification that Frankie, you were told to move.

Campbell continued: “Frankie, we told you it was mandatory to move. You didn’t move. Now you will have to wait until after the storm has passed because officers Jones will not be asked to risk his life to come to get you. That’s all we trying to do here. No one is breaching the constitution.”

But Davis said the issue is not about first responders, but citizens who choose to remain in their homes during the face of the storm being deemed to have committed an offense under law if the bill is passed.

He insisted that was unconstitutional.

The comment drew response from Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, who said there is no one who does not wish to protect the constitutional rights of Bahamians.

Bannister said: “The operative article that we are looking at is Article 29 which deals with the freedom of movement and where we look at the freedom of movement and circumstances under which freedom of movement may be curtailed under the constitution it is very clear that this provision is not unconstitutional and that what flows from it, relating to the freedom of movement of any individual is entirely constitutional.”