Friday, December 15, 2017

Gone to the dogs


Mark Fraser

 The Dog Control (Amendment) Bill 2014 started its life dealing with bad dogs, but it may end up as bad legislation. 

The Valentine’s Day revelation by St Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh that incurred the AG’s wrath was that even before he laid the Bill for the second reading, the AG was warned that it was fundamentally flawed and should be reconsidered. That warning, Deyalsingh said, was given by Kristel-Marie Ramnath, the animal behaviourist credited by the AG with work on the Bill. And, since the Bill’s approval in the House, the Veterinarians Association, also recognised for its input on the Bill, has warned that breed-specific dog control legislation like this is expensive and unenforceable. 

Perhaps the AG has bitten off more than he can chew. It was clear on Valentine’s Day that he was in no mood for love. His allegation of a relationship between Ms Ramnath and MP Deyalsingh was clearly linked to Deyalsingh’s unexpected revelation of Ms Ramnath’s warnings to the AG on the Bill. Rising to debate the Bill, Deyalsingh went straight for the jugular. 

First, he cited the AG’s previous statement in the Senate that once the legislation was passed local insurance companies would provide specific insurance coverage for the risks. However, contrary to that statement, the AG in his contribution in the House on February 7, on the second reading of the Bill, made it clear that the local insurance companies were not offering specific insurance coverage for the risks arising out of the Bill, but were subsuming the risk under general homeowners’ risk, a far different matter. 

Next Deyalsingh got to the more contentious issue. He again referred to the AG’s contribution of February 7 in which the AG singled out Ms Ramnath for giving her time freely and going beyond the call of duty, resulting in the list of Class A dogs in the Bill moving from six to 16 based on, “the kind advice she provided”. 

Not so said Deyalsingh. He read from correspondence said to be sent by Ms Ramnath to the AG and the Chairman of the Law Commission even before the second reading of the Bill on February 7 when the AG sung her praises. And, said Deyalsingh, Ms Ramnath suggested a different approach to the AG than the one contained in the Bill. 

In this case she suggested that, “the entire list be picked through with a fine-tooth comb and the breed selected for inclusion in the Dog Control Act be based on bite potential rather than just on genetics”. 

On that basis Deyalsingh suggested to the House that the Bill be withdrawn having lost its way on a fundamental issue, and having lost its support from Ms Ramnath 15 days before the second reading in the House, when the House was not told that Ms Ramnath’s position had changed. 

And that is when the AG lost his cool.

The funny thing is that even after Deyalsingh’s revelation, and subsequently when he proffered his apologies, the AG never addressed the matter that caused the problems in the first place. 

To date, having read to the House several text messages said to be from Ms Ramnath to him, sent in the days preceding the Valentine’s Day sitting of the House, the AG has not refuted Ms Ramnath’s statements that she did not offer certain opinions as part of the official consultation on the proposed Bill or that even before the AG spoke in Parliament and claimed to have used Ms Ramnath’s opinion in developing the Bill, Ms Ramnath had, several days before, recommended a different approach and made suggestions for the Bill that were fundamentally different from what was already before the House ostensibly with Ms Ramnath’s professional watermark all through. The AG used his time to say that this person, praised a week before for her free work, was in search of a paid contract.

The other funny thing about the AG’s suggestion of Deyalsingh’s relationship with Ms Ramnath is that the AG is now extremely familiar with the matter of defamation. The Government has just completed debate on changes to the country’s defamation legislation. Two days before the AG’s outbursts Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh delivered his judgment in the defamation claim brought by Dr Rowley against the former independent senator Michael Annisette, with Annisette ordered to pay Dr Rowley $675,000 in damages and legal costs. And, the AG was in the midst of serving a claim on Herbert Volney for defamation arising out of alleged posts on social media linked to the infamous Section 34. 

AG Ramlogan also has pending and threatened defamation actions. No one is better placed than the AG to understand the implications of his unfounded statements, except that in his mind parliamentary privilege apparently includes the privilege to fabricate, defame, offend, and then call it “political picong”. 

In his judgment Justice Boodoosingh offered a “word to the wise” on defamation: freedom of speech and expression does not give a licence to make unfounded statements about other people. That’s exactly what the AG did on Valentine’s Day, and it is now left to Parliament’s Committee on Privileges and the Prime Minister to deal with the issue. Deyalsingh was on solid ground in the context of all that has happened with shoddy legislation, the disclaimers from Ms Ramnath, and the latest disclaimer and warnings from the Veterinarians Association. 

The attack on Deyalsingh in the particular context was an act of cowardice undeserving of the shield of parliamentary privilege and unworthy of that broad protection the PM has afforded her AG, Jack Warner-style. 

The Dog Control (Amendment) Bill was intended to eliminate the possibility of vicious attacks by dangerous dogs. What we really need is a Bill that protects individuals and their families from vicious attacks made by politicians under the protection of Parliament. Until then, we gone to the dogs.

• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer