The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is accusing Government of attempting to rush through legislation to increase police powers, but could potentially encroach on Barbadians’ civil liberties.
A Bill entitled Amendments to the Police Act 2017, which was originally scheduled to be debated on December 19, but later push back for Parliament’s resumption after the Christmas break, proposes to grant powers to the Commissioner of Police to use cordons and curfews if he deems them necessary to protect life and property of citizens, or protect public order.
It also makes provision for police inspectors to cordon off areas for no more than eight hours during which people within the cordoned area must refrain from any activity.
The BLP’s spokesman on legal affairs, Dale Marshall, told party supporters at a joint meeting of BLP branches in the northern St Michael district that it was baffling as to why the Freundel Stuart administration was in such a hurry to introduce legislation of this magnitude without first consulting with the people of Barbados.
Marshall also suggested that there might have been a deliberate ploy to prevent the matter from being properly ventilated in the Lower House.
His reasoning was that the Opposition only received details of the measure on the night before it was originally scheduled to be debated.
“We intuitively demanded to see what Bill they intended to bring. It was not on Parliament’s website but we go sight of the Bill during the Leader of the Opposition’s cocktail party, which was 8:30 on Monday [night] and this was supposed to be debated in Parliament the next day.
“When I saw the opening words it terrified me . . . We thought that maybe we were not seeing it correctly because we could not believe that a government could produce a Bill for Parliament the next day, which had as its purpose the introduction of cordons and curfews,” Marshall said.
The former attorney general suggested that the measure appeared to be Government’s response to the outbreak of gun violence, which has resulted in 23 of the 30 murders committed so far this year.
However, he said it was drastic, particularly because the legislation stipulates that lawmen could use these new powers for something as trivial as a vehicular accident.
“I suspect that the only time in the last 100 years that we would have had curfews would have been in the time of the  riots. As a former attorney general I have been concerned about the level of criminal activity especially as it relates to gun crime. Boxing Day is now shooting day because a 23rd life was lost through gun violence on that day and I can only hope that we don’t lose another one before the year ends. We have said that it is a serious matter and one which we don’t want to score political points from, but to impose on Barbadians without any consultation the power to an inspector to impose a curfew on a person or community is unheard of.
“You probably did not know that a government that you elected was going to Parliament to impose curfews on the people. I could understand that you allow cordons for a situation like what happened at Spring Garden last August when people were running and shooting, but this statute says that they could use cordons in order to investigate motor vehicle accidents. If I didn’t see this for myself I wouldn’t have believed it,” Marshall stressed.