Long-awaited legislation for pepper spray use will be debated in the Senate next Tuesday—and apart from applicants over 18, certain categories of law enforcement will also be allowed to use it in their duties.
Plus there will be huge fines, along with jail terms, for misuse of the non-lethal weapon.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi confirmed developments Wednesday.
Proposals for pepper spray use are an amendment to the Firearms Act. It requires only a simple majority of votes—largely Government’s—for passage
Al-Rawi said, “I’m pleased to pilot this amendment next week, introducing pepper spray into Trinidad and Tobago. While there’s much talk on it, particularly from the Opposition, it’s a fact no other government had the courage to do this.”
“Also, this isn’t the cure-all for the difficulties of vile, horrible violence against women and vulnerable people.
“I remind that Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Saddam Hosein, especially, stand as the forces against removing and constraining monsters that walk among us by their failure to support amendments on bail law, Witness Anonymity, cybercrime, the Anti-Gang bill. It demonstrates their view that when T&T fails, they succeed. I call on both to stop playing smart with foolishness.”
The bill being introduced is the culmination of the Government’s work on non-lethal weapons following public pressure after the murders of women, including Ashanti Riley and Andrea Bharatt, which prompted calls for use of pepper spray, Tasers or other non-lethal weapons.
Government first stated it would consult experts following concerns the device would be used by culprits against people who had them. But Police supported pepper spray use. Consideration began. Following public outcry after Bharatt’s murder it was announced that pepper spray would be approved with a permit system.
The bill was approved by Cabinet, examined by its Finance and General Purposes sub-committee and released for debate. The bill, which places pepper spray under the Firearm Act, provides for two types of permits.
Much like firearms, people will have to apply to the Commissioner of Police or an authorised officer for a permit to import, export, divert, sell, manufacture, produce or distribute pepper spray.
According to the proposal, those who wish to purchase, acquire or have it in their possession will apply for a Pepper Spray permit.
Both types of permits will be granted to people over the age of 18.
In the case of those 16 and over, the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child, must give written permission for the child to be in possession of pepper spray.
For business people, a license to import, produce or manufacture pepper spray will cost $50 and be for five years. For holders, a licence to purchase, acquire or have pepper spray will cost the same and be for three years.
Permits won’t be granted to people whom the Commissioner/officer has reason to believe to be of “intemperate habits or unsound mind, or to be for any reason unfit to be entrusted with pepper spray.”
It is proposed that Estate Police, Special Reserve Officers, Municipal Police Officers and “such other persons” as approved by the National Security Minister to have in their possession pepper spray when performing their functions. This sector had appealed for years for use of non-lethal weapons.
Only for self-defence
People authorised to purchase, acquire or have pepper spray, shall only use it in self-defence.
The proposed law states there is a penalty for using pepper spray in the commission of a criminal offence is—on summary conviction—a fine of $250,000 and five year’s jail or on conviction on indictment, a fine of $750,000 and 15 years jail.
Those charged with serious crimes—offences against the person, burglaries, kidnapping, trafficking, offences against a child, trespassing, domestic violence—or are on bail or orders concerning Domestic Violence issues won’t be allowed permits.
Permit holders charged/convicted for an offence shall return the device and permit to the police.
Anyone selling/transferring pepper spray to any other person who doesn’t hold or isn’t exempt from holding either permit is liable on summary conviction to fine of $550,000 and five years jail or on conviction on indictment to fine of $750,000 and 15 years jail.
Those carrying the device must have the permit on them. Devices must be stored out of reach of children. There’s a $100,000 fine and six months jail for non–compliance.
If a permit or device is lost/stolen it must be reported to the police. If it is found by someone, they must deliver it to a police station.
Apart from Opposition calls for the bill, the presentation comes as the Candlelight Movement—led by Phillip Alexander, Inshan Ishmael and Ian Alleyne—got 128,520 signatures on an anti-violence petition. This was circulated after Bharatt’s murder.