A Barbadian coast guard officer has found himself at the centre of controversy in Dominica after he reportedly “grabbed” a camera from a regional journalist on Thursday in a bid to stop him from recording footage of the post-Hurricane Maria relief effort.
The incident occurred around 8:45 a.m. at the deep-water harbour on the outskirts of the capital and involved prominent Vincentian journalist Kenton Chance, who is in Roseau reporting for the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) and volunteering his services as part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) humanitarian effort.
Chance, who had gone to the harbour with members of the CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU), was attempting to film disaster victims receiving water along Goodwill Road, when he apparently raised the ire of members of the official distribution team.
Chance reported that the uniformed member of the Barbados Coast Guard, who was armed with an assault rifle, relieved him of his camera at the instruction of a man in civilian wear.
“One of the men dressed in civilian wear involved in the distribution and who spoke with what sounds like a Barbadian accent had told me, without giving reasons, that he did not want me to film the distribution, which was taking place in full view of the public,” the journalist said.
However, Chance, who recently completed similar work in the British Virgin Islands and is in the process of putting together a documentary on the hurricane battered islands, said “even before I had filmed anything, I told the coast guard officer who I was, what I was doing and explained to him the basis on which he had no legal authority to prevent me from filming.
“I then ensured that I was, as far as I could discern, on the public walkway and began to film,” the Vincentian journalist added.
However, he said he was only able to make a 40-second recording before “the Barbados Coast Guard officer grabbed my camera and the civilian, who had followed closely behind him, instructed him to delete the images.
“I told the coast guard officer that he should not obey anyone’s instruction to break the law or violate the rights of others,” Chance said, adding that he also pointed out to the officer that like him, he was part of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) response team and that he had travelled to Dominica onboard the Barbados Coast Guard vessel ‘Leonard C. Banfield’.
Chance said he also reminded the officer of the “pep talk” that a female officer had given to officers before they were dispatched to Roseau about not abusing their power while on duty in Dominica.
“When this failed to move the officer, I informed him that I was going to report the development to the CDRU personnel with whom I had arrived at the nearby port. I further advised the Barbados Coast Guard officer not to cause further embarrassment to himself, his unit and his country by allowing the man to delete the images.
“I went back to the port and informed Acting Inspector of Police Hospidales of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Force of the development. Hospidales and another member of his team accompanied me back to the scene of the incident. At this time, I also telephoned [retired] Brigadier General Earl Arthurs of CDEMA, who spoke to Hospidales and the man, after which the camera was returned to me,” Chance said in a detailed account of the incident.
While none of the images on his camera was deleted, he described the entire episode as simply reprehensible.
“I find this development totally unacceptable, distressing, and disconcerting, and embarrassing. It demonstrated a shameful abuse of power by the Barbados Coast Guard officer and total disregard for the rights of others. I was wearing a high visibility vest during the incident but had no press credentials displayed, although I had press credentials on my person. Both my DSLR camera and camcorder were in plain view,” said Chance, who is questioning: “What if I were a Dominican citizen? Is this the way that the visiting Barbados Coast Guard officer would have treated me?
“I note, however, that this officer’s actions stand in stark contrast to the courteous manner in which the other six or so civilians and I who travelled to Dominican on board Banfield were treated during the journey,” he added.
No statement has been issued by CMC on the matter. However, the umbrella Association of Caribbean Media Workers was scheduled to issue a response with Chance suggesting that at the very least both he and CMC are deserving of an apology “for the distress and embarrassment caused” as a result of “ the highhandedness displayed by the Barbados Coast Guard officer while I practised my profession as a CARICOM national in a country, where having been granted entry as an OECS national, I am entitled to unlimited stay”.
In a statement this evening, the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) said it was aware of the complaint lodged by Chance against a member of the Barbados Coast Guard and in addition apologized for any embarrassment caused. It said “a comprehensive investigation” had been launched into the matter.
“The doctrine or operational policy of the Force does not condone misconduct or disrespect and disciplinary [action] will be taken as necessary.
“The Barbados Defence Force sincerely apologizes for any embarrassment caused.
“The allegations are in no way reflective of the standards of the Barbados Defence Force and the Force will continue to uphold the highest standards of excellence in all endeavours.
“The Barbados Defence Force is committed to the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the Commonwealth of Dominica and will continue to do so in the manner that is expected of this Force,” the BDF said in a statement issued this evening to Barbados TODAY through its Public Relations Officer Captain Maria Moore.