Two opposition Members of Parliament were reportedly injured while being removed from the House of Assembly on Thursday.
Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace said Senator Vynnette Frederick was nursing injuries to her shin and knee while Member of Parliament for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, had an injured shoulder.
The opposition legislators were removed from the House of Assembly after what began with Eustace making a case for the withdrawal of a piece of controversial legislation that would absolve politicians from responsibility for untoward statements against each other during election campaign.
The proposed amendment to the Representation of the People’s Act (RPA), along with changes to the Criminal Procedures Code — which were passed in January but have not been assented to by the Governor General — have generated much public discussion and opposition protest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Eustace told Parliament on Thursday, March 3, that Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves should withdraw the bills.
He said the bills “both infringe on rights, infringes our freedoms and threatens our democracy”.
“Thank you,” said the Speaker of the House of Assembly Hendrick Alexander as Eustace remained standing after making his presentation.
“That’s it? You are still standing,” said the speaker, to which Eustace responded, “Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am still standing”.
“Could you take your seat, please. Kindly take your seat. You have made a request. I expect that there is going to be a response to it but I can’t have two people standing on the floor at the same time,” Alexander further said.
The speaker repeatedly requested that Eustace sit but Eustace said he wished for Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to indicate whether he would withdraw the bill.
“… If you do not take your seat to have this matter addressed, then I will just note the point of order and ask the prime minister to proceed with the … motion as was moved on the bill. … Having asked you to sit down, if you do not, I will ask you to leave the … House of Assembly immediately,” Alexander said.
“I have pleaded with you. I have begged you and I am asking you to do so of your own will and volition and if you do not do so, then I will ask a member to move a motion on that behalf so that you may leave the House of Assembly. But, again, I give you an opportunity to sit and let us proceed with the business,” the speaker further said to Eustace, a former prime minister.
Gonsalves rose on a “disciplinary matter”, during which an exchange of words ensued between the Speaker and Frederick, who was taking photographs.
“Those who are taking photographs here are given permission by the speaker to so do. Nobody comes in here and takes photographs without my permission,” the speaker said during the exchange with Frederick.
He further told Frederick that he would not accept “any form of rudeness” from any member of the House, to which Frederick responded, “Really?”
“Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the order should be that she deletes the photographs and so inform this honourable house. She may well put it on the Facebook if she doesn’t delete it,” Gonsalves said during the fracas.
“It gone already,” Frederick said in response to the prime minister’s suggestion.
Gonsalves further requested that the police guard the mace — without which the House of Assembly cannot proceed — saying that “Senator Leacock”, Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, was sitting close to it, contrary to the seating arrangement.
“I have absolutely no intention to interfere with the mace and the insinuation by the prime minister — who continues to address me wrongly — is out of order and I take exception to his insinuation that I am here for disorder and to remove the mace. It is not a part of my intention. I do not so function,” Leacock responded at the beginning to a prolonged discussion about the words of the withdrawal of the prime minister’s insinuation.
As per the speaker’s request, Gonsalves moved a motion that the speaker takes whatever appropriate action he deems fit, in light of Eustace’s disregard for the speaker’s authority.
Alexander ordered that Eustace be suspended from the House for the next two sittings and that the sergeant-at-arms remove him from the chamber.
Leacock pointed out that according to the rules, a member can only be suspended for the current sitting.
The speaker acknowledged his error and ordered the sergeant-at-arms to remove Eustace from the assembly chamber and request any officer to assist him in doing so.
The speaker then suspended the sitting for about 10 minutes during which time the opposition leader remained standing.
When the session resumed, the Alexander requested the sergeant-at-arms to escort the opposition leader out of the chamber but the other members of the opposition benches formed a protective ring around him.
The speaker then called on members of the police force to assist the sergeant–at-arms to evict the opposition members from the House of Assembly.
The controversial bill was sent to a select committee.