Mr Colin John
Commissioner of Police
Royal Police Force of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Re: Demonstration/ Protest Action
Your letter dated August 31st, 2021 refers and we reply as follows:
- The preamble of the Public Order Act explicitly speaks to the purpose of the Act:
“an ACT to prohibit the wearing of uniforms in connection with political objects and the maintenance by private persons or associations of military or similar character: to make further provision for the preservation of public order on the occasion of public procession and meetings in public places.” The Public Service Union is a Trade Union of workers. It is NOT a quasi-military organisation; it is NOT an association of military or similar character. In short, the Public Order Act does not apply to Trade Unions. We remind you that the interests of Trade Unions are promoted and protected under section 11 of the Constitution, the supreme law of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, albeit a qualified right.
- Further, even if the Act was applicable to Trade Unions, Section 5 of the Public Order Act specifically requires that any person organising or concerned in organising any public meeting or public procession shall NOTIFY the Commission of Police. The Act does not require any organisation to seek permission from the Commissioner of Police to have a meeting or public procession. Parliament did not give powers to the Commission of Police to permit or prohibit peaceful protest under the Public Order Act. The use of the word NOTIFY must be instructive as it relates to the intention of Parliament.
- The Act indeed gives the Commissioner of Police the power to preserve good order and public safety on the occasion of a procession. Certainly, you must understand the difference between protest/demonstration action and a public procession. In any case, a protest action is not the same as meeting as defined under the Public Order Act. Therefore section 7 of the Act on which you rely is inapplicable to a protest action, which does not involve a public procession.
- Regarding section 10 of the Act: it is pellucid that this section speaks to meeting or procession in action. This section does not confer the power to the Commissioner of Police to prohibit a meeting. We are sure you have an appreciation for the fact that legislation is to be read in its entirety to fully understand the spirit and intention of parliament. The word “disperse” does not mean to prohibit upon notification of “meeting” or procession. Having said that we refer you to section 12 which reads on from section 10. Section 12 clearly indicates that it is an offence to fail or neglect to comply with a call to disperse. There is nothing unlawful in having a peaceful protest, the unlawful act is to fail to disperse if called upon to do so. And, we add that a call to disperse, certainly, is where the procession or “meeting” becomes non-peaceful. The spirit of the Act most clearly does not give the Commissioner of Police the power without reasonable and proper cause to disperse a peaceful “meeting”. The intention of parliament is to maintain or preserve good order and public safety where the environment is non-peaceful.
- Further, we reject the view or any insinuations that our members intend to hold anything but a peaceful protest. As Commissioner of Police, you must know that conjecture and baseless speculations are unacceptable in law. Therefore, we are dismayed and view with disdain your insinuation that our Public Workers intend to engage in any activity, but peaceful protest, which will be done under the protection and security of the Police Force and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- The Constitution provides for the right to assembly, association and free speech. Therefore, the Commissioner of Police cannot arrogate authority to impose time, place and manner restrictions to an assemblage of the people on a presumption that they will be disorderly and disruptive. After all, over the last five months, our country recorded numerous pickets, protest demonstrations without any major breach of the peace. The occasional skirmishes that flared up cannot and must not be used as a pretext to prevent expressions that are constitutionally protected. Rather, it is the obligation of the State to single out perpetrators of non-peaceful protests to preserve good order, public safety and the rights and freedom of a democratic society.
Taken together, your instructions and or orders as per the notification of the Public Service Union (PSU) amounts to a misapplication of the Public Order Act and flies in the face of the constitutional protections accorded to citizens of our country. Therefore, the legal, honourable and proper course of action is to rescind your prohibition and promise cooperation and protection to public workers willing to engage in peaceful protest in defense of their constitutionally protected rights.