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Police throw wrench into Union’s planned protest

Police throw wrench into Union’s planned protest
President of the PSU, Elroy Boucher

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A WRENCH HAS been thrown into the Public Service Union’s plans to take industrial action next week, as the Commissioner of Police has prohibited the Union from having protests and processions in the vicinity of the Kingstown Vegetable Market, White Chapel Road and Pauls Avenue on September 7 to 10.

“We are very much disappointed. We think that it is our fundamental right to demonstrate. The trade union act itself, in our view, supports our right to demonstrate anywhere. I think that the Police and the Commissioner have gotten it wrong and we think that they are aware that it is wrong but it is their way – or the state’s way of trying to shut down protest action which is a hallmark of our democracy,” Elroy Boucher, the Union’s president told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday morning.

Last week, the PSU announced its intentions to take industrial action during the four-day period in a direct response to the government’s amendment to the Public Health Act, which introduces COVID19 mitigating measures for frontline workers to either choose between vaccination or regular testing at their expense.

In addition to a withdrawal of service from September 7 to 10, Boucher indicated that the intention was to demonstrate on both Wednesday, September 8 and Thursday September 9, and to have a procession on Thursday, September 9.

The next sitting of Parliament is also slated for September 9.

But, Commissioner of Police Colin John formally responded to the Union’s notices via letters dated September 1, in which he indicated that Section 7 and 10 of the Public Order Act prohibits these actions in the areas specified by the trade Union.

John, in his response, said Section 7 of the Act gives the Commissioner of Police authorisation to impose conditions on the persons organising and taking part in the procession, which are necessary for the preservation of good order or public safety.

These conditions include “prescribing the route to be taken by the procession and conditions prohibiting the procession from being held, or from continuing to be held or from entering any particular public place specified in the directions”.

The Commissioner further outlines that Section 10(3) speaks to specified distance – a radius of 200 yards from any point within the curtilage of any scheduled premises.

Section 10(3)(a) also addresses specified time, as in the case of the High Court Building; any time at which either the House of Assembly, Court of Appeal, High Court or a Magistrate’s Court is sitting.

John, in his application of Section 7, has proposed an alternative route to be taken by the Union’s procession – between Highway Trading, Arnos Vale and the Sion Hill intersection on Thursday, September 9 between 10am and 4pm.

Other conditions have also been outlined.

He added that the procession, which was intended to begin at the Kingstown Vegetable Market, contravenes Section 10 as the location is within the 200-yard radius from a point within the curtilage of the High Court and Parliament.

“I cannot usurp the authority that was granted to me by Parliament and authorise your organisation or anyone to breach the law…” the Commissioner’s letter reads. “As a responsible organisation, it is my honest hope that you would encourage members to abide by the laws and not engage in an unlawful meeting and/or procession.”

Boucher told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that the Union has already contacted its legal counsel, and fully intends to respond to the Commissioner.

A meeting was expected to be held with the membership of the trade union last night to inform on the Commissioner’s position and to chart the way forward.

Prior to announcing the union’s intention to take industrial action, Boucher said he met with the Commissioner and members of the Police High Command.

He told SEARCHLIGHT that during this meeting he felt unsure of how the Police would respond to the Union’s intention.

Boucher said Deputy Commissioner Frankie Joseph, noted that the union would not be allowed to demonstrate in the specified area.

The president added, however, that he got the impression that John “was a bit more moderate and he understood these fundamental rights.

“They just shut it down and we’re not asking for permission, we’re informing. That is the whole irony of that thing. I don’t really agree with it. I think what they are doing is unconstitutional but like they will tell you, if you want to challenge it, go and seek judicial review but judicial review takes more than one year, one, two years to resolve in the court,” Boucher said.

“This matter is a matter of immediacy. We can’t wait on a judicial review to do something that the constitution gives you a right to do. That has been practiced in St Vincent ever since the world was one.”

Despite the Commissioner’s response to prohibit two forms of industrial action in the areas close to the House of Assembly Building, Boucher said the withdrawal of service among public service workers, including front-line workers like nurses, will still take place from September 7 to 10.

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