A mother of eight from east Port-of-Spain, who was left stranded abroad for almost six months on her first trip outside of T&T, has lost her constitutional lawsuit against the State over the closure of the country’s borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Delivering a written ruling yesterday, High Court Judge Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell dismissed the constitutional motion brought by Takeisha Clairmont, 41, of East Dry River, Port-of-Spain.
In a press release issued shortly after, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi noted that Donaldson-Honeywell ruled that regulations passed by the Government under the Public Health Ordinance 1940, in response to the pandemic, were legitimate as the ordinance is saved law, which is exempt from constitutional review as in Clairmont’s case.
“The Court went on to note that rights under the Constitution are not absolute. They carry reciprocal duties and responsibilities and may be subject to such restrictions as are necessary in a democratic society, in the public interests of national security, public safety and protection of the rights of other persons,” he said.
He also noted that the court ruled that the regulations passed by the government were a proportional response to the pandemic.
As part of her decision in the case, Donaldson-Honeywell ordered Clairmont to pay 25 per cent of the State’s legal costs in defending the lawsuit.
According to the court filings, Clairmont’s legal team was claiming that the Government was required to amend the country’s immigration laws in order to effect the change as opposed to using the regulations, which are executed without Parliamentary scrutiny.
They claimed that the policy breached Clairmont’s constitutional rights to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of movement, and freedom from arbitrary detention, imprisonment or exile.
In addition to compensation for Clairmont’s pain and suffering, they were also seeking an order declaring the regulations, which deal specifically with the closure of the borders, null and void.
In an affidavit attached to the case, which was also obtained by Guardian Media, Clairmont sought to recount the harrowing details of her experience.
Clairmont claimed that in January, last year, her brother, who lives in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) bought a ticket for her to come to help take care of him after undergoing kidney surgery.
Clairmont attempted to get a return flight before the closure of the borders but was unsuccessful.
Faced with the prospect of being separated from her family for an inordinate period, Clairmont, who was three and a half months’ pregnant suffered a miscarriage in the airport toilet.
She was hospitalised and her brother was forced to pay over US$2,000 in medical bills.
Clairmont was then forced to stay with her brother and his wife while frequently making requests to the Ministry of National Security to facilitate her repatriation.
“I felt like I was a burden to my brother and his wife as they were themselves struggling and I was only adding to their problems,” she said.
During that time, she claimed she suffered from severe depression.
“I felt abandoned by the government and there were countless times I wanted to hurt myself or just take my own life,” she said.
Clairmont claimed that she only received a favourable response in late August after her plight was first highlighted by Guardian Media’s CNC3 News and then other media companies.
As Clairmont could not afford to charter a flight to Barbados, fellow stranded citizens, who communicated with her via social media, started a GoFundMe account in order to raise the $33,000 that was required.
Clairmont claimed that when she reached Barbados she had to highlight her plight on social media and contact National Security Minister Stuart Young in order to be placed on a repatriation flight instead of having to secure another charter.
When she arrived, Clairmont was quarantined at the Home of Football in Couva for almost a week before she was released.
She also complained of her time in quarantine claiming that she was not given medication for her diabetes. She also claimed that the treatment she received while in quarantine in Barbados was better.
The part-time Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) worker claimed that the situation did not only affect her emotionally but financially as her husband had to leave his job as a security guard in order to care for their children in her absence.
She also claimed that furniture she had purchased for her home on hire purchase had been repossessed.
“Even when I came back to T&T, I felt so much hatred that I was ashamed of being Trinbagonian and wanted to rip my passport into pieces,” she said.
Clairmont was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Che Dindial, Alana Rambaran, and Ganesh Saroop. Reginald Armour, SC, Vanessa Gopaul, Raphael Ajodhia, Savitri Maharaj and Kadine Matthew represented the Office of the Attorney General.