Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mendes: Ban on gays ‘bad for T&T’

SENIOR COUNSEL Douglas Mendes says the continued existence of domestic laws aimed at preventing members of the gay community belonging to other Caricom nations from entering this country, despite the implementation of the Caribbean Community Act, is “smearing the name of Trinidad and Tobago”.

He said the Caribbean Community Act is supreme over local immigration laws and as such, the section of law preventing the free movement of those individuals from entering this country should be removed from the statute books.

Mendes made the submission yesterday at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Port of Spain in seeking the interest of Jamaican gay rights activist and attorney Maurice Tomlinson who is challenging Section 8 of the Immigration Act which gives immigration officers the power to refuse entry to those individuals.

On Tuesday, acting Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes testified that even though the law is still in existence, immigration officers do not prevent gays belonging to member states from entering this country. However, Mendes submitted yesterday it matters not that the officers have taken the stance to not enforce the domestic law as they may be complying with the treaty, but the existence of Section 8 continues to contradict the objective of the treaty.

“It is not permissible to have a law on your statute books that contradicts the treaty. As long as those laws are on the books they will not be in compliance (with the treaty),” said Mendes.

He further submitted that even though the immigration officers may have good intentions by not enforcing the domestic law, they are nevertheless refusing to carry out their duty and are in turn contravening of the local law. This is just another reason why the Government should move to have that section of law repealed, he said.

Tomlinson is contending that Section 8 of the Immigration Act which allows immigration officials to refuse entry to homosexuals, prostitutes and other people who may benefit from the proceeds of either. He also brought action against the Government of Belize whose immigration legislation is similarly worded.

He previously visited this country on two occasions and Belize on four occasions, but after becoming aware of the existence of the prohibitions, he refused to accept invitations from both countries to avoid violating it immigration laws.

The matter was presided over by a five-judge panel led by president of the CCJ Sir Dennis Byron and included Rolston Nelson, Charles Anderson, Adrian Saunders and Jacob Wit.

At the end of the hearing, Byron reserved judgment saying that the court needed time to deliberate on the submissions made by the parties before it would be able to arrive at a decision.