Opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock, on Thursday, asked for a suspension of Parliament to discuss with the speaker “a matter of important public interest”, which turned out to be a video of military personnel in Trinidad, rather than St. Vincent, as he was led to believe.
The clerk had called for the presentation of the Stamp (Amendment) Bill, 2021, when Leacock, who is into his third term as MP for Central Kingstown, rose under Standing Order 81.
The standing order gives the speaker special privileges and Leacock asked for a two- or three-minute suspension of the House of Assembly to meet with the speaker, Rochelle Forde, for consultation on what he considered “a matter of important public interest.
“I have never done it before in 20 years here but I am just asking for consideration,” Leacock pointed out.
The speaker announced a five-minute suspension, which lasted for 24 minutes.
When the house resumed, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that in the interest of all the transparency required, Leacock had asked him and Opposition Leader Godwin Friday to join with the speaker in her office.
“And he produced a video which was sent to him, purportedly showing paramilitary SSU persons with particular devices in their hand and wining (dancing) as though they were in a Michael Jackson video and which didn’t look professional to me at all.”
The prime minister said he accepted that Leacock was led to believe that the video was recorded in SVG.
Gonsalves said that he called the Commissioner of Police, adding that he had also told the meeting that he could not discuss with the commissioner the police chief’s assessment of the risk and whatever kind of equipment would be required to police the protest.
He said that he had asked one of his security officers but he called the commissioner and said it is unprofessional for persons to be there who are supposed to be protecting the public, including the peaceful protesters, “that they can’t be wining as though it is a disco”.
The prime minister, however, said that a senior member of his security team said that the video was not taken in St. Vincent but in Trinidad, involving Trinidad personnel.
Gonsalves said he called back the police chief and said to him that the video was recorded in Trinidad.
Leacock checked and confirmed that the video was not of St. Vincent but of Trinidad, the prime minister told lawmakers.
“So all’s well that ends well. Because we can’t have — I was shocked to see you had three paramilitary persons there “wining” as though they are in a Michael Jackson disco. But it turned out not to be the case,” Gonsalves said.
“So all’s well that ends well. I am grateful for the honourable member for Central Kingstown for raising it. Clearly, he was misled. I am absolutely sure that had he known it was Trinidad, he would not have raised the matter. So I want to thank him for raising it. But what it highlights is that a lot of mischief is being sown on social media and people have to just be very careful, all of us, including leaders, on this matter.”
The prime minister said that during the meeting they discussed other things, but they are not directly relevant to the issue on which Leacock had asked for the suspension on an urgent public issue.
The opposition leader then rose and thanked the speaker for entertaining Leacock’s request.
Friday said that when he saw the video, he was very, very perturbed and upset “and immediately I thought of the context in which this was happening, and having seen what transpired among some of the security personnel on Tuesday, and the broader context of the demonstration, the protests that have been taking place and the attitude that has been displayed by some law enforcement — not all — and what happened, it laid a context for plausibility and belief in the video and I am glad to see that it is not here in St. Vincent. But that is not the only matter of which I am concerned. And I will raise it here now because it is exactly germane to the situation.”
As lawmakers met last week Tuesday and Thursday, protesters took to the streets outside Parliament highlighting a number of issues.
In commenting on the video, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves said:
“It seems that very soon we will have to amend standing order 15 to add a new subsection to the order of business of this Honourable House, that being, ‘Things I saw on my phone, read on Facebook or was forwarded to me on WhatsApp. I would hope that before any of us broadcast anything we take a pause and verify our facts, before we bring them before this honourable house.”