ST. VINCENT: – There is no truth to information making the round in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that all non-campaign related public events are banned until after the Dec. 13 general elections, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Thursday, Nov 25.
However, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, disagreed with police about their interpretation of the laws governing the use of loudspeakers.
“I heard people calling in and say on the radio that the police say that you can’t hold meetings, do any other events other than public meetings,” he said.
Gonsalves said the police made no such announcement neither do they have any “such authority”.
Acting Commissioner of Police Bertie Pompey this week said at a media briefing that the police will not tolerate violence during the election campaign.
Pompey issued the warning after reports of several incidents which he described as being politically motivated.
“Violence is absolutely not an option in the democratic process of electing a candidate and as such it will not be tolerated by the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force. Anyone involved in acts of violence will be decisively dealt with in accordance with the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Pompey said as he guaranteed the safety and security of the public “at all times”.
Speaking at the same press briefing, Assistant Commissioner of Police Ekron Lockhart quoted the Noise Act of 1990, saying that meeting using loudspeaker must end at 12 midnight and appeal to political parties to abide by the law.
“We are seeing also where loudspeakers are used throughout the streets, especially in Kingstown, and normal business will have to continue. We are a country of laws and the law says that no loudspeaker shall be on the streets of Kingstown between 10 pm and 7 am on any day, except between 12 midday and 1 pm. That is basically saying [that] during lunch period you are permitted to use your loudspeaker and 4 pm and six pm on the same day,” Lockhart said.
“…with the greatest of respect to the police force, I would beg to disagree with their view on this matter,” Gonsalves said on Thursday.
“It is perfectly in order for the public address system to go about whether it is NDP, ULP, Green Party or anyone else. Among other thing if a loudspeaker is so operated as to not give reasonable cause for annoyance the persons in the vicinity, it’s perfectly in order,” said Gonsalves, a lawyer.
He, however, said that public address systems cannot be used to broadcast indecent language because that will be the criminal offence of causing an annoyance in the public.
He said the police can stop such a person and charge them with an offence under the Noise Act, “in addition to any other criminal offence which may be open to the police [with which] to charge you”.
Gonsalves said on receiving a report of a person causing annoyance to the public, the police “will see if you have a reasonable cause to say you are annoyed”.
“I appreciate the concern by the police, because there is a particular vehicle which goes around with a lot of invectives, with a lot of real nastiness, and I can see their concern about it. But, they have the authority, under the law, to address that.
“But, you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. The Noise Act is premised on, first of all, your freedom of expression but that there are reasonable restraints which can be placed on that freedom of expression and the law contemplates it,” he said.
Gonsalves said that the Public Order Act speaks to holding public events, including a requirement to inform the police of such a public event.
“Interestingly, you do not have to seek the permission of the police because the Constitution gives us that permission. The police are interested in orderliness, public safety, public order. If the police apprehend that there is likely to be disorder, they can then tell you upon the notification that you can’t hold the meeting …
“So, these laws are carefully calibrated and balanced and I wanted to make the point so that nobody can go about and say that Ralph tells the police to do this; he is a dictator, he is this, he is that. I mean it is just not so,” he said.
“… I don’t control the day to day operations of the police. I address issues of public policy but the operation of the police force and its management are left to the leadership of the police force, which leadership is excellent,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves said that while Pompey and Lockhart are doing “a splendid job”, adding, “But I just wanted to have this clarified”.
“… In any event, such a view of the law will also prohibit my campaigning and I don’t want my campaign to be prohibited unreasonable because at end of the day the people would make the verdict on December the 13th and when they make the verdict that is the verdict,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves was speaking at the Community College at Villa where he presented cheques to students who performance in regional examination qualified them for an EC$500 (US$185) award.
The awards go to Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) students who pass five subjects including English and mathematics, and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) students who pass two subjects, along with communication studies or Caribbean studies.
Some160 CAPE students and 366 CSEC students will receive cheques