Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Saturday shot back at all those suggesting that the Sedition Act should be repealed because it is too old, saying there are several other laws we mighty ads well do away with in the same vein.
“The biggest conversation in Trinidad and Tobago today is how old the Sedition Act is. And it’s time to get rid of it. Well then if that is how we approach it, we might as well go with the whole basket,” Rowley said.
“Let’s get rid of the Trespass Act, that’s ‘kinda’ old too. Let’s get rid of the act for murder and crime. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the act which speaks to common assault, which dates way back to the days of King John and the Magna Carta.”
The PM made the statement while speaking at the T&T Police Service’s special Independence Day celebrations at the Police Administration building on Sackville Street, Port-of-Spain.
Rowley was, of course, referring to the case in which Public Services Association president Watson Duke was charged with sedition for comments he made last November in relation to jobs at T&TEC, TSTT and WASA. Duke appeared in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court on Friday and was granted $250,000 bail.
The charge, however, has led to a public debate on whether the Sedition Act, which was passed in 1920, is outdated and should be revamped to cater to freedom of speech as enshrined in the Constitution.
Yesterday, Rowley reminded all who have taken on an oath of office that that oath required them to observe and carry out the laws of T&T, not selectively nor preferentially, but as they exist on the books. He said it was neither about how old law was, nor about its colonial origin like most of our laws are, but rather about what exactly the law meant to deal with and is dealing with.
“I don’t want to get involved in the proceedings of the innards of the court, but as the population is excited about getting rid of the Sedition Act, I want to ask citizens, is it the act itself that is the problem? Or is it alright for a citizen-head of one sector of the country - to make disparaging and damaging statements of another sector because ‘it’s my right and freedom to do so?’ And is it my right to say that if I lose my job, the end result would be X, Y, Z?’’
Last Wednesday, Dean of the University of the West Indies’ Law Faculty in St Augustine, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, expressed fear that the country’s misused sedition laws create uncertainty in T&T’s democratic society. She described the act as archaic and noted that although the act was amended in the late 1970s, there was a need for it to be re-examined once more.
Commenting on the work of the TTPS meanwhile, Rowley said it must not be forgotten that it was the police among the various national security arms who stood between the population and the criminal element in all its forms.
“Let’s not forget that. Let us remind ourselves on an ongoing basis that what stands between you and your family is a family of a police officer and his or her family…that is the reality,” Rowley emphasised.
Reiterating words said by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, who spoke before him, Rowley said: “We can admit and must admit we have not won the war against criminal excesses, but we will if we go in the right direction and do what has to be done.”
Taking a moment to share his own encounter with crime, Rowley said 30 years ago when his wife Sharon was seven months pregnant, as they lay on a bed, an intruder entered their bedroom with a dagger.
“I know that feeling. I know the fear of crime,” Rowley said.
“I know that crime is not anything new in T&T. I know as a society we have to be permanently engaged with the criminal element.”
Rowley said today, criminals don’t use daggers, they use guns and “and some use their hands…their fingers to commit crime.”
He said at the level of the Security Council as well as the Cabinet, he is assuring that within the realms of their resources, the provision will be made for officers to not just have the basic tools and training, but more than the basic.
“It is for you the officers, particularly the managers of the system, to ensure what resource we make available to you, you apply those resources to your own resource and your best resource is your attitude and your integrity, and if you apply those resources to our problem. There is no mountain you cannot climb successfully in T&T,” he said.