HUMAN rights attorneys Ramesh Maharaj and Israel Khan on Friday both supported the Prime Minister’s suggestion of access to recreational spots for vaccinated individuals, as the country continues to grapple with the covid19 pandemic.
Dr Rowley had earlier told a briefing in Tobago that “restaurant in-house dining, casinos, cinemas and hopefully bars” could reopen at month-end for vaccinated individuals.
Newsday asked the two senior counsel if any “vaccinated-only” access was akin to rightly debarring entry to a filthy person or was it discrimination.
Maharaj said Rowley was right.
“Under the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago there is a guarantee of the right to life and the Government has a responsibility and a duty under the Constitution to protect and take proactive measures to protect the lives of individuals.
“I think a government is entitled to mandate vaccines, where if you do not mandate it, individuals can go and communicate a disease, an infectious disease, to others and affect their lives. I don’t see the difficulty in people understanding that this is a pandemic, it is a dangerous virus, it can kill, it has killed and it is killing more.
“A government has a duty to take steps, proactive steps, to prevent people from dying. Therefore if it means mandating masks, mandating vaccines to enter their place of employment or to enter cinemas or for children to go to school, I think the Government is entitled to do that.
“They have a duty to do that.”
Maharaj said the present law of TT says a child can only enter primary school if he/she with a certain vaccination certificate.
“Since I was growing up as a child you had to take certain vaccines.”
Newsday asked if a collectivist right (to public health) also included an individual’s right not to be infected, versus an individual opting to not be vaccinated.
“Yes, and it’s more than that. If a government does not do that, an individual can bring a constitutional claim against the government, that the government is violating individual fundamental rights (to be protected from being infected by others).
“In the Constitution there is a clause where the government can pass a law which is unconstitutional as long as it is justifiable in the public interest.
“So I’m saying the government has to uphold the Constitution by protecting the right to life, by taking steps to prevent a person’s life from being threatened and they are entitled to take steps to compel persons to take their vaccines, etcetera.
“The individual rights are there to protect all people.”
He said services could be accessed otherwise by people not vaccinated owing to medical reasons.
Newsday asked if “mandatory” meant giving a vaccine forcibly.
Maharaj replied, “No, no. Let’s say you are employed in building A and for you to enter the building you must have your vaccination certificate. So it is mandatory for you to produce your vaccination certificate in order for you to enter the building.”
Khan told Newsday it was “a ticklish” situation, but said the Government could restrict rights in a pandemic.
“What he (Rowley) is indicating is that if you are not vaccinated you cannot go to the cinema. I think he could do that. He could also say those children who are not vaccinated would not be allowed to attend public school and mingle with people who are vaccinated.”
Khan said someone might try to test the issue in court, but he reckoned the Government’s position would prevail.
“It’s a balancing act that the court will decide.
“You see, there’s no such thing as an absolute right when it comes to fundamental rights. It could be curtailed for the greater good of the country.”
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