A Vincentian activist in Canada has accused the organisers of the Vincy Unity Picnic of being “political” when they decided not to allow Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Godwin Friday, to address the event at Thousand Islands on Saturday.
Elma Gabriel, who has been involved in Vincentian associations in Canada for more than 50 years, told iWitness News on Sunday that she has never heard of a situation where a prominent member of the opposition attended the event and was not allowed to greet citizens there.
She said she spoke on Sunday to two long-time members and they also cannot remember that any Member of Parliament in SVG, especially at the level of the Leader of the Opposition, was ever turned away from bringing greetings to persons at the picnic.
“Our organisation, of which I am very versed with the constitution, clearly stated that it’s non-political. What we have to remember is that even though we are the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association, we actually fall under the Canadian law and basically when we register these organizations, we have a constitution that we abide by and objectives and I know for sure that the one for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association states clearly that we are non-political,” Gabriel told iWitness News.
“And because we are non-political, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, no matter who is in power, have no control over what we do. What controls what we do is the policies of Canada. That is where we are registered,” she said.
Gabriel said she strongly supported Friday, who is also leader of the SVG’s New Democratic Party (NDP), being allowed to bring greetings at the picnic.
“I have been accused over and over and over for being [a supporter of the] ULP (Unity Labour Party) and things like that. I am not ULP, I am not NDP; I am for my people; I am for St. Vincent… And that is why it really affects me very much to know that one of our brothers — he is not only an opposition [leader], we are all brothers and sisters — and basically to know that he travelled all the way up here and was not even allowed to even bring greetings.”
Friday, who became opposition leader last November, travelled to Canada just to attend the picnic.
“The reason it’s called Unity Picnic is because what it did is unite us, Vincentians, from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Once a year, we get together and meet and hang out and that is why it’s Unity Picnic. If this was really Unity Picnic, why wasn’t Dr. Friday allowed to speak? It’s about unity.”
Gabriel told iWitness News that she believes that Friday was not allowed to speak because of political reasons.
“There is a group here called the SVG Toronto group and I openly stated on Facebook that they are the only political group I know of in Toronto. It’s basically comprised of a lot of the people from the ULP. I am deeming them political.
“… People are going to be surprised because I have been accused of being a supporter of the ULP. I do not support any party. I support my people but what I do I stand for what I believe is right and what I believe is fair.”
“It is sad and I can tell you that they are giving Dr. Friday sympathy votes. There are a lot of people who sympathise with him coming this far and not being able to speak,” she said.
Friday, who has been a Member of Parliament since 2001, said he was disappointed that he was not allowed to bring greetings at the event, but said he interacted with a large number of persons.
Organisers of the picnic said they did not receive a formal request from Friday to address the gathering.
But Daniel Exeter, president of one of the Vincentian associations in Canada, said he submitted to the picnic committee on Friday’s behalf what he considers a formal request to have Friday speak at the meeting.
The organisers of the picnic have said that they have a policy of inviting a representative of the government in Kingstown to address the gathering.
Minister of Health, Luke Browne, a government senator, represented the Ralph Gonsalves government at the event.