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Guard and Emergency Branch officers hold a participant from the “Push Back” walk at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on Sunday after some protesters remained for a while after the event.

The T&T Police Service’s (TTPS) Departmental Order of 2019 includes the use of tear gas – and if there are concerns about this affecting children, parents must be concerned about not putting their young children in harm’s way.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley made these points in Parliament yesterday in response to queries from United National Congress MP Rodney Charles.

Charles initially asked Rowley if there is a “Use of Force” policy that includes the use of tear gas as a crowd control measure. It was an obvious reference to last Sunday’s protest by the Push Back group and members of some unions at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, where many said they were protesting so-called “mandatory vaccines.”

Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 300 which was said to be unruly hours after the actual event. Police said no permission was granted for the march. Public health regulations also limit gatherings to 10.

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, condemning the tear gas use, had said in a statement that tear gas “had not been used in this country since 1975.” A video had shown a father flushing out his two sons’ eyes with water after they were affected by the tear gas in the Savannah event.

Yesterday in Parliament, Rowley said if Charles was serious about the “Use of Force” policy query, Charles would have known that in the police service, “… there is and has been for the longest while, a use of force policy which includes the use of tear gas as a crowd control measure.”

Rowley pointed out that TTPS Departmental Order 126 of 2019 includes the use of force policy and that addresses tear gas use by the Guard and Emergency Branch. Rowley added that Charles must know that but Charles was only seeking to “engage in misinformation and mischief.”

Charles asked if the order took into consideration the presence of children, the elderly and passersby before use.

Rowley said, “I don’t know of any young children who find themselves making decisions to go out and break the law, causing police to fire tear gas at them. If you’re concerned about young children that you have, you as parent must be concerned about not putting your young children in harm’s way!”

On Tuesday, former Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, who was in charge of TTPS in 2019, took issue with the police’s use of the tear gas last Sunday. He sought to make a distinction between that and the 2020 incident when tear gas was used on a group of protesting Nelson Street youths coming through Port-of-Spain, heading for the Red House.

However, another Savannah protest is being planned for Saturday.

On Tuesday, First Wave Movement leader Umar Abdullah sent a reminder to media that he had notified acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob of last Sunday’s Push Back action. In his letter to Jacob, he’d also said the First Wave group would have similar “peaceful demonstration” at the Savannah this Saturday against vaccinations and safe zones.

Abdullah’s letter stated he had requested police presence at both events “to ensure all public health protocols” were observed and maintained.