As the Opposition continues its rejection of anti-gang legislation, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi is asking citizens to consider how the legislation can crackdown on gangs who rob, rape and kill women.Following the kidnapping and murder of Arima court clerk Andrea Bharatt in January, there is a wave of activism, calling on parliamentarians to get their acts together and provide measures to protect women.
Al-Rawi said the renewal of the Anti-Gang Act, 2018, which expired last year, was one measure that would allow police to crack down on gangs.
Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew yesterday, Al-Rawi asked citizens whether they would prefer a coordinated attempt at stopping gang activities. It includes one in which a woman can enter the car of a criminal who parades as a PH taxi driver.
He asked them to imagine a situation in which this criminal trawls the streets for young women, take them to lonely places where they grab, rob them of their wallets and bank cards and gives to an accomplice, rapes, murders them and dump their bodies.“In that scenario, as opposed to going for the crime of murder and catching the person, the other one is an accomplice to murder. What about that very culpable person who was receiving the bank card and taking the money. What about the other people who knew about it. We have the ability in that habitual pattern to apply the Anti-Gang law where the offences are considerably higher.”While the State can do this under the Principle of Joint Enterprise, he said it is difficult. Al-Rawi said the UNC does not want to support laws that would protect citizens. He said the government now finds itself in a position that to pass laws, it is up to the Government and Independent benches.On Monday, Al-Rawi piloted a diluted version of the previous Anti-Gang Bill offering amendments to the Upper House where police would need a warrant to enter and search premises. Another change was that police could only detain suspected criminals for 48 hours compared to the 72 hours contained in the expired Act. It means the government requires a simple majority for the passage of the Bill. There was also the removal of a sunset clause.However, the UNC has called for the Government to reinstate the requirements for a special majority vote and the sunset clause.
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said the clause would allow the Parliament to measure the effectiveness of the Bill, which she said was draconian. Lutchmedial said everything in the Bill was already an offence, adding that Al-Rawi brought the Bill at this time since emotions were running high.She said the Opposition did not support previous bills since there was no evidence to show effectiveness, and statistics cited the reduction of gangs but did not state where members went. But Al-Rawi questioned: “Why are we fighting in this country to stop a law that has been proven to have a very positive effect? What is wrong with us in this country, respectfully? We are arguing about whether we should have an anti-gang law. Canada has it, the United States has it, Jamaica has it, the Caricom has it, Europe has it, and Trinidad & Tobago cannot have it? What is wrong with this country?”Al-Rawi said the statistics were there for the Opposition, noting that Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith stated that under the Anti-Gang Act, 2018, there was a 30 per cent reduction in the number of gangs and a 58 per cent decrease in gang members as of 2018.Last November, Opposition Chief Whip David Lee said the Opposition had a responsibility to citizens and could not support the continuance of the legislation that infringes on citizens’ rights. However, Al-Rawi said there is a balance of rights that citizens have.
“The government and the State have an obligation to protect the majority of citizens. The gang members have rights as well, and we say the courts will be the arbiter for their rights.”He said while The UNC wants to see convictions instead of the 100-plus charges under the previous Anti-Gang Act, Al-Rawi said the changes are resulting in decreased gang membership.He admitted that there was a lengthy wait for convictions after charges but noted several changes and the expansion of the criminal justice system in the last few years.He said there was one conviction, 33 matters before the magistrates’ courts, 40 matters in the High Courts and 35 new matters.“As a result of those charges being in effect, the Commissioner of Police has demonstrated a 59 per cent drop in gang membership because of the suppression aspect. So let us accept that the charges will lead to convictions or acquittals. The point is people are before the courts, and there is an effect,” he said.
Meanwhile, As the issue of legalising pepper spray comes before the Cabinet tomorrow, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi says some people will be prohibited from carrying the weapon. Regular attacks on women in the past months prompted several activist groups to lobby the government to legalise the use of pepper spray as a non-lethal weapon.
Al-Rawi said the legislation proposed to amend the Firearms Act.
Subject to Cabinet’s approval, someone desiring a can of pepper spray can go to any police station and apply for a permit. Within a day, they can get a permit that allows them to go to a pharmacy or an authorised dealer to purchase a can. A permit would last for three years. “Why? Some people ought not to have pepper spray. Somebody who is in a domestic violence matter, somebody with a charge for a serious matter, somebody with a rape matter, those things ought not to allow you the consideration of receiving a pepper spray permit. Therefore, we have a class of prohibited persons,” Al-Rawi said. The proposal also includes heavy penalties for anyone who uses pepper spray in the commission of a crime. Al-Rawi said this amendment to the Firearms Act was just one of a suite of legislation that the Government plans to roll out to make the country safer. The government also wants to amend the Sex Offenders Registry to allow for website publication and revise the Sexual Offences Act to create new offences, such as voyeurism. “Very importantly, the criminal offence of taking intimate images and videos and threatening people or disclosing them publicly without consent. That is a landmark improvement that will assist in the battles we are dealing with.” Additionally, he said amendments to the Evidence Act, Computer Misuse Act and legislating whistleblower protection and sexual harassment are also on the agenda.