Opposition Leader, Godwin Friday. (File photo by Seymour Hinds)

Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says that his Canadian citizenship does not bar him from being a Member of Parliament in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), but, rather, makes him doubly qualified to do so.

“… the thing that qualifies you to be a Member of Parliament in Section 25 of the Constitution [of St. Vincent and the Grenadines] — and it says it twice, that one statement — is that you must be a Commonwealth citizen of the age of 21. I am a Commonwealth citizen twice over, if anything. I am twice qualified,” Friday said on Monday.

He was speaking during his weekly radio programme on NICE Radio after his return to St. Vincent from a funeral in Canada.

Friday, who was born in SVG, has been representing the Northern Grenadines since he was first elected to Parliament in March 2001.

He said that “everybody knows” that he has been a Canadian citizen for over 30 years. “I have never hid it that I am, in fact, a Canadian citizen. I have lived in Canada for many years,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, there have been comments about whether Friday is qualified to hold office.

The discussion came after an opinion piece by pharmacist and political activist Matthew Thomas was published in the local media.

The opinion piece raised questions about whether Friday’s election to Parliament is unconstitutional.

Supporters of the ruling Unity Labour Party have amplified the discussion.

Friday, noting that he has been an MP for 17 years, said: “It’s something that they have suddenly latched on [to] … as some sort of an issue, all of a sudden.”

Also over the past weeks, Searchlight newspaper published an article saying that Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker had shown them proof that he renounced his US citizenship in 1994 — before he was first elected Member of Parliament for Central Leeward.

Supporters of Friday’s New Democratic Party have been raising questions about whether Straker was qualified to be a Member of Parliament in SVG.

Among other things, they noted that Straker’s name did not appear on the register of persons who had renounced their U.S. citizenship.

The SVG constitution is generally understood as baring nationals of the United States and some other countries from becoming Members of Parliament in SVG.

However, the ULP has argued that persons born in the United States of Vincentian or commonwealth parents, unlike naturalised US citizens — by virtue of the fact that they have to swear allegiance to the United States — can become Members of Parliament in SVG.

Commonwealth citizenship

“The two things have no real relationship. They are completely different things,” Friday said of Straker’s status in the United States and his (Friday’s) in Canada.

He said that when it comes to voting in elections and becoming Members of Parliament, the Vincentian Constitution recognises one citizenship: “Commonwealth citizenship.”

“It is not a question of dual citizenship [but] Commonwealth citizenship. I am a Commonwealth citizen because I am a citizen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, having been born here. I’m a Commonwealth citizen because I am a citizen of Canada.”

Section 25 of the SVG Constitution, under the rubric “Qualifications for representatives and Senators”, says, “Subject to the provisions of section 26 of this

Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected as a representative if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of twenty-one years or upwards, … has resided in St. Vincent for a period of twelve months immediately before the date of his nominations for election or is domiciled and resident in Saint Vincent at that date”.

The section also speaks to proficiency in the English language.

Among other things, section 26 of the Constitution, which addresses “Disqualifications for Representatives and Senators”, says:

“No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator (hereinafter in this section referred to as a member) if he is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state…”

Some persons have argued that Friday, in order to become a Canadian citizen, had to pledge allegiance to that country.

But Friday countered that argument, noting that the pledge of allegiance he took in Canada was to Queen Elizabeth II, who is also head of state in SVG, and the same person to whom Vincentian parliamentarians have been pledging allegiance.

“I swear allegiance, whether you like it or not, to the same person: to her Majesty The Queen,” he said.

‘all sleight of hand’

The opposition leader dismissed the debate over his citizenship as “all sleight of hand”.

“… they are trying to distract people and trying to muddle it up to say somehow Straker gave up his citizenship…”

Friday said that his passport is not as important as his birth certificate.

“I was born here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. My navel string buried in Bequia,” he said, adding, “I grew up in Bequia…

“So this is my home. My first allegiance is to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. If you wanted any proof, I came home when I was asked to serve my country. I came because my first allegiance is St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the place of my birth…”

14 replies on “Friday says Canadian citizenship makes him ‘twice qualified’ to be MP”

  1. I’m a commonwealth citizen plus USA citizen too but born in TnT to Vincentian parents. I would like to run for office forming a new peoples party. Lol
    Vincy lawyer you with me? Lol

  2. It is amazing how people consistently contradict policies for their own purpose. Mr. Friday like all other Canadian Vincentians Citizens are just documented according to the stipulation of the laws and agreement within the commonwealth and therefore are clearly qualified to hold office if he/she is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of 21.

    As Vincentians, we are given the opportunity to migrate out of the Commonwealth to other countries such as the US, Canada etc. However, the process to pledge one’s allegiance only occurs in the choice of becoming a citizen, which is usually clearly notarized within the booklet for preparation.

    As Vincentians within the diaspora, “Mr. Friday” like me, in order to become a citizen, had to ‘pledge allegiance’ to the country we reside which (in this case) happens to be Canada. SVG alike Canada are members of the Commonwealth who also pledges allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state in SVG, and the said person to whom Vincentian parliamentarians have been pledging allegiances.

    The fact is that SVG and Canada serve allegiance to the same master (Queen Elizabeth II) unlike the United States which put the parliamentary eligibility issue of Mr. Straker and others in a totally different twist. Tell me? How can one swear allegiance to the United States and become Members of Parliament in SVG?

    People; let’s “compare Apples to Apples and not to Oranges.”

  3. C. Ben-David says:

    Friday is 100 percent correct on this citizenship non-issue and that pusher of the white man’s prescription and non-prescription drugs, many of them which kill tens of thousands of people around the world every year, who nevertheless is a strong opponent of medical marijuana, a substance that has never killed anyone, a mischievous and meddling pharmacist named Mathew Thomas who has had a falling out with both the ULP and NDP, is 100 percent wrong on this issue as he is wrong on most issues.

    Indeed, Friday’s Canadian citizenship should be seen as a value-adding bonus for our people because he can beg the Canadians for help as one of them if he becomes Prime Minister, an office our Constitution says he has an unfettered legal right to try to obtain.

    1. Good point C Ben. I did not think of that…and seeing how bad our economy is, it does not matter who doe what, we are still going to have to beg, even if Lee Kwon Yu were our PM.

  4. It is amazing how people consistently contradict policies for their own purpose. Mr. Friday like all other Canadian Vincentians Citizens are just documented according to the stipulation of the laws and agreement within the commonwealth and therefore are clearly qualified to hold office if he/she is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of 21.

    As Vincentians, we are given the opportunity to migrate out of the Commonwealth to other countries such as the US, Canada etc. However, the process to pledge one’s allegiance only occurs in the choice of becoming a citizen, which is usually clearly notarized within the booklet for preparation.

    As Vincentians within the diaspora, “Mr. Friday” like me, in order to become a citizen, had to ‘pledge allegiance’ to the country we reside which (in this case) happens to be Canada. SVG alike Canada are members of the Commonwealth who also pledges allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state in SVG, and the said person to whom Vincentian parliamentarians have been pledging allegiances.

    The fact is that SVG and Canada serve allegiance to the same master (Queen Elizabeth II) unlike the United States which put the parliamentary eligibility issue of Mr. Straker and others in a totally different twist. Tell me? How can one swear allegiance to the United States and become Members of Parliament in SVG?

    People; let’s “compare Apples to Apples and not to Oranges.”

  5. This is quite a tricky legal issue.

    The article says that Section 25 lays out qualifications for being elected to parliament but also notes that Section 25 says that it is SUBJECT to Section 26 . Section 26 states that Vincentian legislators cannot take an oath to a foreign power.

    So Section 26 comes first. If this is tested in Court the issue before the court would be whether Section 26 also excludes swearing oaths to Canada and other Commonwealth countries.

    Or put more simply in the meaning of section 26, are commonwealth countries to be considered foreign countries?

    That is the question. Since Vincentians and other Commonwealth cant just pick up and enter other Commonwealth countries without passports and visas etc and do also get deported from these countries, it explains why courts find this issue very difficult.

    In a million and one different ways Commomwealth citizens are clearly not citizens of one another countries. But in St. Vincent under specific constitutional provisions they are allowed to vote and be elected to office. Does swearing an oath to the other Commonwealth countries take away that right? I do not know.

    Of course Vincentian legislators of dual nationality can make this all irrelevant: tear up their foreign passports and renounce their foreign citizenship.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      Section 26 does not take precedence over Section 25 but merely qualifies it.

      How can you say that “In a million and one different ways Commomwealth citizens are clearly not citizens of one another countries” when millions of citizens of Commonwealth countries around the world have dual citizenship in other Commonwealth countries?

      “Foreign power or state” in Section 26 clearly excludes Commonwealth countries and their Commonwealth citizens. The law can be an ass but not such an ass as to place two sections side by side that clearly contradict each other. In law, context and interpretation mean a great deal. The constitution as a legal document needs to be carefully read and intepreted. A careful, rather than simple minded, reading and intepretation of the two sections reveals that they do not conflict with each other.

      The British framers and Vincentian accepters of our constitution would certainly have recognized a irreconcilable contradiction if there were one between items in the two sections.

      Accordingly, our courts would never find this issue very difficult to deal with and quickly dismiss which is why the ruling ULP did not file a charge against Friday years ago.

      Mischief making is the bread and butter of electoral politics. When mindless mischief like this is accepted by some members of the electorate, it simply shows how ignorant our people can be.

  6. Ben

    On the comment that ” in a million and one different ways commonwealth citizens are clearly not citizens of one another countries” I was referring here to those who are not dual citizens.

    On the legal issue you may be right. But I am pretty cautious in assuming I know how a court would rule on constitutional disputes.

    Mischief making? Not sure why you impugn motives here but nothing in your own argument suggests anything other than intellectual rigor in your reasoning and intellectual courage to defend your position.

    Now I certainly cannot explain the ULP’s failure to challenge Friday’s election earlier. But I wont be surprised if they do so now. And neither should you.

    1. C. Ben-David says:

      The ULP newspaper political columns dealt with the issue by citing Australian case law which the writer claimed disqualified certain candidates under nearly identical situations that they say is relevant to SVG. I have not had time to investigate on my own but will try to do so to see for myself and report my findings.

      1. I read that piece too – hence my caution.

        I also think that a Court could rule that because a natural born Canadian or Englishman or citizen of any other Commonwealth country gained their citizenship by birth and therefore did not have to swear an oath of citizenship to their natal country, they are eligible to serve in SVG parliament without violating the Vincentian onstitutional requirement against swearing an oath.

        It is therefore possible for a court to rule that a native born Vincentian who swears an oath to a foreign country -even if it is a Commonwealth country – is in a different constitutional lane from those who swore no oath to acquire their citizenship. Hence, the court could therefore rule that it is the swearing of the oath itself, and not the fact of dual citizenship, which would be the constitutional violation,

        Precedent and legislative intent would guide such a ruling. So the Australian case and others would be critical. So I just don;t think that it is a simple case. I think it is tricky.

  7. Instead of continual political pandering, Politicians could be making proposals for much-needed reforms agenda and fighting the excesses of Government. the fighting of corruption. Noone needs to explain to me what is meant. I can make up my own mind.

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