Attorney Wayne Munroe, QC.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY Wayne Munroe, QC, believes the government’s proposed Disaster Preparedness and Response Amendment Bill 2019 is “unconstitutional”, as he accused the government of causing harm to scores of Abaco residents.
In an interview with The Tribune Friday, Mr Munroe said should this proposed amendment be passed and made law, it would without doubt be challenged in court as going against the country’s constitutional provisions.
If passed, the Bill makes provisions for a peace officer who can take into custody a resident who has not evacuated from a specified high-risk area according to orders. That person would be handed over to a shelter.
The prime minister would also have the right to demand the evacuation of any person or group from any place once there is a threat of disaster.
Also no first responder would be obligated to risk their lives to rescue or recover any person in a specified area or island.
The Amendment Bill comes about three weeks after category 5 Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama.
It also comes two years after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the Attorney General’s Office had been drafting a mandatory evacuation bill.
“I’ve spoken to the attorney general and they are drafting it,” he said in September 2017. “I think it’s essential we have mandatory evacuation. Not only that but we must now have a manual for evacuation so we have guidelines; guidelines for category one, for category two which may not require evacuations. A requirement may be category four or five; that’s things that have to be discussed. We’ve learned quite a bit from this procedure therefore our manual will tell us exactly how individuals are dispatched, how people are collected, how facilities are set up, etc.”
Fast-forward two years and faced with unprecedented destruction due to monster storm Dorian, Mr Munroe said the government’s proposed legislation is nothing but a “great ruse”.
He said: “When the Governor General proclaims a state of emergency, your fundamental rights are abridged or suspended, so for instance you can be subject to arbitrary arrest so this thing about peace officers arresting you - if the constitutional fundamental rights provision isn’t suspended article 19 of the Constitution says no person should be deprived of his personal liberty save as maybe authorised by law in any of the following cases execution of sentence or order of a court; execution of a court order to bring him before the court; unreasonable suspicion of having committed an offence; if it’s somebody under 18 for the purpose of education and welfare; To prevent the spread of infectious disease or to prevent unlawful entry into the Bahamas.
“Now unless the provision is covering any of those you can’t be detained. But if you declare a state of emergency your article 19 rights are suspended but they make it quite clear that they are doing that. So immediately they passed this legislation (but) it’ll be challenges as being unconstitutional, which in fact it would be."
Mr Munroe told The Tribune that the government was to blame for the deaths of Hurricane Dorian because it did not evacuate residents ahead of the storm. He said even if every single person left their homes, including those in The Mudd and Pigeon Peas the island had nowhere to safely shelter them all, noting orders to seek shelter in Marsh Harbour made no sense. Officials have said the death toll as a result of the monster storm is 52.
“So all of that in my view is just a deflection. It is to say and this is my view, it would have been very clear to them that they were unprepared as the storm bore down on Abaco and Grand Bahama. Although we would have known that those islands were going to be hit as the storm passed the Dominican Republic.
“So they are trying to say that they told people to leave and they didn’t leave and they have succeeded in detracting attention so that the question isn’t asked: why did you tell people to go to Marsh Harbour? Isn’t Marsh Harbour low lying? Isn’t it called Marsh Harbour because it’s a Marsh?
“That’ll be like telling people to go to Pinewood Gardens and Marshall Road as the storm came down on New Providence.
He continued: “And then they say we told the people out of the shanty towns to move, but exactly where were they going to go because they didn’t have shelters for them.
“All of this is one great ruse. There was nothing wrong with the existing law. You declare the disaster emergency, the prime minister under the disaster can under the preparedness act if per chance you think there is a state of emergency suspend people’s fundamental rights.
“The only way you do that in this country is under the article 29 process where the Governor General declares a state of emergency, it remains in place for 14 days unless its shortened. Then your right to protection from arbitrary arrest, your freedom of movement, your sanctity of your home, your protection against compulsory acquisition, all of that goes away during the period of the state of emergency.”
The amendment bill is expected to be tabled in the House of Assembly when it reconvenes on October 2.