Government is being warned it was venturing down “a very slippery slope” with a proposal to give police the power to search individuals even without reason of suspicion.
Attorney-at-law David Comissiong said the Freundel Stuart administration must be careful not to violate the rights and civil liberties of Barbadians in the name of crime fighting.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite today announced at the third quarterly general meeting of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) at the Hilton Barbados Resort that Government would implement a series of measures to tackle the island’s crippling crime rate.
Among these is a plan to give police the power to search people’s properties even if there is no suspicion of a crime.
However, stating that he was anxiously awaiting further details of the proposal, Comissiong warned that Government could end up trampling on people’s rights.
The prominent attorney-at-law, who last year successfully challenged a Government plan to fingerprint Barbadians leaving and entering the country, said while the crime situation called for a serious response, Barbados was a “free and democratic country” with laws that must be respected.
“I would therefore deprecate any effort by the state to trample upon the legitimate civil liberties and rights of the Barbadian people. Even though we recognize that there is a crime situation that merits our serious response, at the same time the response cannot be to overturn the rights that the Barbadian people possess to their privacy, to the sanctity of their homes and their property,” Comissiong stressed.
“As an attorney-at-law and a citizen of this country, I would be severely opposed to any idea that an officer of the Royal Barbados Police Force could enter the home of a Barbadian citizen and search it without just cause and without having a requisite search warrant.”
In making the announcement this morning, Brathwaite acknowledged the proposal was a “dicey” one since individuals’ constitutional rights must also be protected.
Notwithstanding, Comissiong told Barbados TODAY he was comforted in the fact that in order to amend the Barbados constitution it required a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament.
“The system that we have has a built-in mechanism for proper consideration and discussion at a parliamentary level of any proposal to cut down or curtail the constitutional rights of the Barbadian people,” he said.
“If indeed the attorney general has made such a proposal it would suggest to me that the attorney general is out of his depth and would be well advised to seek the counsel of wiser and more mature heads in respect of that matter.”
Brathwaite also announced plans to install cameras at the island’s ports of entry, a proposal that was immediately applauded by the BHTA, with chairperson Roseanne Myers declaring, “that is the kind of positive approach that we welcome”.
However, it has been a contentious issue dating back to 2003, when the then Barbados Labour Party administration attempted to install surveillance cameras in the transit sheds at the port.
Back then customs officers protested, in very much the same way that they did in 2010 when closed circuit surveillance cameras were installed in the arrivals hall of Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA).
“The cameras are operated by the GAIA and also have audio or eavesdropping capacity. The customs officers see this as an insult to them as a law enforcement agency to have another agency monitoring them on a 24-hour basis,” one customs source said back then.
The officers, backed by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), have maintained that due to the sensitive nature of their work, including examining passengers’ baggage and conducting interviews, it was inappropriate to have “an external agency having access to such intimate knowledge of customs operations”.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall today said instead of seeking to point an accusing finger at border patrol officers for rising gun violence by placing cameras at the ports of entry, Government should first examine its economic policies.
It was an obvious reference to charges by Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith that customs officers were allowing illegal guns into the country either wittingly or unwittingly, and a recent announcement by Brathwaite that customs officers would soon be made to undergo lie detector tests as part of Government’s fight against crime.
McDowall told Barbados TODAY that while the union was not opposed to the use of cameras at the ports there must first be discussion on the matter.
“This matter has not been discussed since 2003, and presently there is no proposal before the union for the use of cameras in the port. So that needs to happen first.
“Once that is in place we can look at establishing a protocol for the use of cameras – a protocol that ensures the safety of not only our customs officers but of all officers in the ports. So that needs to happen first. The union will not agree to anything that will put the lives of those custom officers at risk. They have loved ones just like anyone else,” he said.
McDowall also suggested that Government’s austerity measures should be examined since they could be a cause for rising crime.