Friday 4 December, 2020

Anti-Gang Bill blocked in Parliament, Young slams UNC 'dog whistling'

Minister of National Security, Stuart Young, addresses Parliament in Anti-Gang Bill debate on Friday.

Minister of National Security, Stuart Young, addresses Parliament in Anti-Gang Bill debate on Friday.

Minister of National Security, Stuart Young, has accused the Opposition of trying to gaslight the population in its rejection of the Anti Gang Amendment Bill, 2020.

Young was speaking in the Parliament on Friday as the Government sought to extend the legislation, set to expire at the end of this month, for another 30 months.

"Yuh see screaming and dog-whistling and trying to distract does not take away the fact that there is a gang problem in every country of the world and we are here as Parliamentarians to protect Trinidad and Tobago and that is why I am saying, respectfully, and I'm pleading with all of my colleagues in the House, do what is right for Trinidad and Tobago. Do what it is that the police service, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, is asking us as legislators to do, which is to continue with the anti-gang legislation."

Young also defended against criticism that the Bill was ill-equipped to address criminal activity in the country.

"There is no single piece of legislation that would eradicate the scourge of gang activity. Not a single piece of legislation will eradicate the scourge but is that a reason not to support it? Because the legislation is a tool, it's a pillar, an asset to be used by law enforcement in the fight against crime."

Meanwhile, the Minister noted that the police service has called for the removal of the Bill's sunset clause as he quoted letters sent to the Police Commissioner.

He also reminded that the legislation was passed in 2018 adding that for the past 30 months, it has been utilised with no reports of abuse by law enforcement.

"From 2018 when it was proclaimed to now, there has not been a single complaint of abuse with respect to this legislation, not a single complaint of abuse, trampling of rights of anyone under the anti-gang legislation so that goal post [argument] has now been eradicated."

Providing further statistics, he said people have been charged under the law for:

  • Assisting a gang
  • Being a gang leader
  • Being a member of a gang
  • Counselling a gang
  • Gang leader and member benefits
  • Giving to a gang 
  • Knowingly providing support to a gang
  • Providing instructions to a gang leader
  • Providing support to a gang leader
  • Retaliatory actions
  • Retaliations and actions against a member of a gang
  • Supporting a gang and a gang leader 

Still, despite his and other MP's posturing, the Bill, which requires a three-fifths majority, was not approved with 20 votes for, zero against and 19 abstentions.

Hours later, the Ministry of National Security issued a statement condemning the United National Congress's (UNC) failure to support the Bill.

"This will have very serious negative effects on the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s (TTPS) fight against gangs and criminality. The Minister of National Security, the Honourable Stuart R Young, MP asks the population to take note of the Opposition’s refusal to support the continuation of this unique Anti-Gang Act, even though the TTPS said it is necessary and that it will mean the end of on-going investigations and charges against gang members."

Background

The Bail (Amendment) Acts and the Anti-Gang Act was first introduced by the UNC in 2011.

Five years later, the People's National Movement (PNM) Government sought to extend the life of the legislation to prevent persons accused of serious crimes, namely firearm-related offences, from accessing bail for 120 days.

The PNM maintains that it supported the Bill when it was in Opposition. However, the UNC has called for the inclusion of procurement legislation to gain its vote. 

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