Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has denied visiting Canada under a “cloak of secrecy” and has explained why he left the North American country without meeting with Vincentians there.
“If you have a choice between staying with your mother-in-law, coming to host your mother-in-law 95th birthday, which I did at Gorse yesterday or to talk to 50 people, Vincentians, important as they are, in Ottawa –” Gonsalves said on radio today (Sunday).
“… what’s wrong with me coming back to be with — first of all to go to New York to do this thing on the Thursday night the 19th with the Mustique Charitable Trust and then to come home and be with my family and my mother-in-law at her 95th. Since her house get blown down in 2017 in Dominica she has been living here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the prime minister said.
Gonsalves visited Ottawa last week for the first Canada-CARICOM Summit on Canadian soil.
It was his first trip to Canada since a Vincentian-Canadian lawyer made an allegation against him in 2008.
There was no official announcement before his departure to Canada that the prime minister would join his CARICOM colleagues for the talks with their counterpart in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau.
Gonsalves left Canada for New York on Thursday, the last day of the summit, even as Vincentians in Canada were invited to meet and greet SVG’s Minister of Foreign Affair, Senator Keisal Peters in Ottawa on Friday.
Speaking on WE FM, Gonsalves said he had heard some people ask why he did not stay in Ottawa for the meet and greet with Vincentians on Friday.
“I had made it plain to my staff from the beginning that I have to be back in St. Vincent on Friday,” Gonsalves said.
“First of all, I had to leave Ottawa Thursday to get to New York in time to go to a big fundraiser for the Mustique Charitable Trust. They are the ones who raise $5 million U.S. to help St Vincent and the Grenadines with the Soufriere. And they are involved with us with the housing programme — the 21 houses we delivered a few weeks ago and the 20 we going deliver on Thursday coming.
“So, I had to go and take photographs and talk with people in New York the Thursday night and, of course, I had to come out on Friday because my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, she was 95 yesterday.”
Gonsalves said that in addition to those events, he had to leave Canada so he could attend the funeral of Famo Samuel funeral, “a comrade from Chester Cottage.
“I had to take time off yesterday even from the celebration with my mother-in-law to go by Famo funeral as a good comrade.
“You see, I go tell you this. Remember, you know, De Comrade caravan moves even while the dogs are barking; the barking dogs don’t stop the caravan from moving you know.”
The prime minister was asked to respond to The News newspaper’s front page report that he had travelled to Canada “under a cloak of secrecy”.
“But I didn’t go under a cloak of secrecy,” he said. “I booked my passage in the same way. The staff did it. The Canadian authorities meet me in Toronto; they met me where I laid over; the met me in Ottawa.
“I don’t understand. You see these fellas, they tell themselves a lie for many, many years and they begin to believe their lie. There’s never been any reason, legal or factual to restrain me from going to Canada. Never!
“I didn’t go to Washington for nearly 12 years and I just went there. If I don’t have a reason to go, a compelling reason and as I told you, I was not interested in applying for any visa and my continuing demand for a liberalisation of the visa regime for Vincentians.
“I didn’t have a compelling reason to do that. This time, I had a compelling reason because I had to go to the summit.”
Since 2012, Vincentian passport holders have required visas to visit Canada and Gonsalves said this is one of the issues he raised with Trudeau.
He said he got his visa in mid-September and that he believes that it was processed faster than the average Vincentians.
“Listen to me, while I was trying to change the format of the summit and when I was doing all various things, I preparing myself to go. I had to vacate a speaking engagement which I had at the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome on Monday the 16th.”
He said that the director-general of the FAO has asked him since January to speak at their special celebration of World Food Day in Rome but when the dates of the summit were announced he had to indicate that he could no longer accept the invitation.
“So, I preparing all the time to go. But I also preparing to make sure that the summit was properly organised from our own standpoint and I wasn’t talking CARICOM standpoint…” Gonsalves said, some of his words made inaudible by the poor telephone connection.
“…. they believe the lie and they want everybody to believe the lie and when they lie finally collides with reality, as I knew it at some time will collide, they then begin to rummage in the dustbin, in the garbage bin to see if they could find things to say,” he said apparently referring to those people who had said that he could not go to Canada.
“But the fact of the matter is this, they end up with egg on their face and rubbage in the dustbin like how The News has done so on their front page with Shelly Clarke continuing this relentless anti-Ralph, anti-ULP campaign. … he supported us in 2001 and since then, the people have said to him and anybody who is like that, that you really don’t’ have any influence over me how I vote,” the prime minister said.
“The dogs may bark but the caravan of De comrade and the ULP continues to move. Barking dogs don’t stop the movement of the caravan,” Gonsalves said.