Attorney says if legislation passed, it is certain to be challenged and struck down
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — As the government seeks to introduce legislation that would allow ‘peace officers’ to remove residents in mandatory evacuation zones from their homes and take them to shelters, Attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, said the bill, if passed, will be challenged and struck down as the provisions infringe of fundamental constitutional rights.
“The existing provisions infringe your right against arbitrary arrest and detention,” he told Eyewitness News Online.
“They infringe your right against freedom of movement. They infringe your right of security in your home — they have to come in your house and they don’t have a warrant. That’s security of your person.
He continued: “And then, they talk about their ability to commandeer property and pay fair value. Well, you can’t have a law that permits them (government) to compulsory acquire possession or ownership of my property unless the law makes provision for prompt and adequate compensation and access to the Supreme Court. Their proposed bill does none of those things.”
The Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was drafted in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, a record storm with a death toll of at least 60 and over 400 still missing.
The first reading of the bill is set for today when Parliament resumes from its summer recess.
If passed, the bill would also allow the government to take possession or control of a property it determined necessary for disaster management or to prevent health or safety risk
Hundreds of residents in the Abacos failed to evacuate ahead of the storm.
Munroe noted that there is an action which exists that suspends the enforcement of fundamental rights and it is not by a proclamation of the prime minister, but that of the governor general.
He was referring to Article 29 of the constitution which authorizes the governor general to make a proclamation of emergency. The provision is subject to parliamentary oversight.
“They don’t get to save you from yourself,” Munroe continued.
“… If I should decide, I should stay where I am… I don’t have to fear anything — no prime minister can tell me that I can’t do that because if they can do that (remove residents from their homes) they’re trying to save you right.”
The proposed bill states that it empowers the prime minister to “make certain orders and to remove the possible conflict with article 29 of the constitution”.
Last month, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government was doing its best to protect people’s lives without impeding on their constitutional freedom, saying it was a “temporary loss of your freedom of movement to save your life”.
During the deadly storm, several of the named shelters in Grand Bahama and Abaco were compromised with raging floodwaters or lost roofs, and in some instances sustained extensive damaged or were destroyed.
Munroe also said the government must consider liability in instances where people would be forced from their homes to designated shelters or safe zones that are compromised, and injury or death ensues.
“Let’s say they had moved people to Marsh Harbour where they had told people to go; most people died in Marsh Harbour right, so that’s where they wanted to carry everyone,” he said.
“It’s sheer dumbness,” said Munroe, added that The Bahamas’ neighbor to the west does not remove people physical from anywhere even when governor declare states or emergency.
He continued, “Where do people get off believing they can be God and save people from themselves.”
He suggested that ahead of the storm the government should have evacuated people — by boat and by plane — from Abaco to islands outside of the projected path of Dorian.
Responding to questions from Eyewitness News Online during a joint press conference with former Prime Minister Perry Christie last month at Odyssey Airport, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham questioned how the government could say “if you don’t come, I am going to arrest you, handcuff you and carry to you where — to shelter and have to police watch you or take you to Fox Hill prison”.
Ingraham said he did not believe legislating evacuations will force those who do not wish to leave to do so. https://ewnews.com/ingraham-mandatory-evacuations-will-not-force-people-to-leave-homes
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said there was a need for the legislation.
At the time, the attorney general acknowledged the “constitutional implications” the government had to consider before it could introduce the proposed legislation and said it would not be introduced at the time.