UNDER FIRE: Hilton Sandy

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PROBE ON SANDY

Equal Opportunity Commission investigates 'Calcutta' statements

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

The Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) has begun a probe of People's National Movement (PNM) member Hilton Sandy's controversial "Calcutta" statement and has issued a preliminary report on the issue.

The preliminary report, which is dated January 15, stated the EOC "received a complaint via its website on January 10 from the Equality Council of Trinidad and Tobago (the complainant) against Mr Hilton Sandy (the respondent) of offensive behaviour."

The Express yesterday obtained a copy of the EOC's report on the matter—"Equality Council of Trinidad and Tobago-v-Mr Hilton Sandy".

Sandy, the incumbent candidate for the electoral district of Belle Garden East/Roxborough/Delaford, at a public political meeting in Tobago on Friday, January 4, urged the people to vote for the PNM, saying a ship from Calcutta was waiting to sail to Tobago, pending the outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election scheduled for January 21.

Sandy has since twice apologised for his statement.

Vice-chair of the Equality Council of Trinidad and Tobago Barrington "Skippy" Thomas, who is an executive member of the United National Congress (UNC), lodged a formal complaint of offensive behaviour against Sandy with the EOC, which is chaired by Prof John Le Guerre.

Thomas claimed Sandy breached Section 7 (1) of the Equal Opportunity Act, which defines offensive behaviour as "A person shall not otherwise than in private do an act which:

(a) Is reasonably likely in all the circumstances to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or groups of persons

(b) Is done because of the gender, race, ethnicity, origin, or religion of the other person or of some or all of the persons in the group

(c) Is done with the intention of inciting gender, racial or religious hatred.

With respect to "boats from Calcutta", Thomas complained: "this statement was directed at his political opponents who are allied to the People's Partnership Government. It was interpreted by many to be a reference to persons of East Indian origin; persons of East Indian origin are, by and large, the traditional support base of the United National Congress political party, which is the majority party within the People's Partnership Government.

"Mr Sandy is a candidate for the People's National Movement political party, which has had its traditional support base among persons of African ethnic origin. At the same time, it is to be noted that demographic data has shown that the population of Tobago is, by and large, traditionally of African ethnic origin.

"Given this background, the complainant feels that the respondent's statements are "acrimonious, racist and combustible" and were made to "perjure and insult" persons of East Indian origin as a group, "with the intention of inciting racial/tribal voting practice in the upcoming THA election".

The EOC also said; "It is to be noted that the commission has not yet received a proper transcript of the respondent's full statement. As such, we cannot at this point make any conclusions or findings on the matter. Further, it was reported in the news media that the respondent has apologised or retracted his statement. We would also need to see the transcript of this as it would affect that we can and cannot do."

The EOC stated that offensive behaviour under the Act was not created as a criminal offence and, as such, it was not within the remit of the commission to fine or reprimand Sandy.

The commission's function, stated the preliminary report, is to receive, investigate and, as far as possible, conciliate allegations of discri- mination.

If the matter cannot be resolved by conciliation, then an Equal Opportunity Tribunal is appointed to examine it further.

The EOC stated in order to prove a complaint of offensive behaviour, the alleged act must meet all three criteria set out in Section 7 (1), which was quoted above.

The first criterion, stated the EOC, is objective—the conduct or statement must reasonably likely, in all of the circumstances, insult, offend, humiliate or intimate another person or group of persons.

The EOC stated the statements made must be looked at in their entirety, as well as the context of the surrounding circumstances, and a conclusion must be drawn as to whether it is reasonable that humiliation was caused.

The EOC added the second criterion is a question of fact, that is the conduct or statement must be done because of the gender, race, ethnicity, origin or religion of the other person or of some or all of the persons in the group.

The third criterion, stated the EOC, is subjective—the statement must be made with the intention of inciting gender, racial or religious hatred.

"Proving a person's intent is a challenge but it is not impossible. It has been said that the state of a man's mind is as much a fact as the state of his digestion, and that one's intent can be proven as any factual matter," stated the EOC.

"In criminal law, one is taken to have intended the natural consequences of one's actions so that, for example, one cannot point and shoot a loaded gun at a crowd of persons and then say one did not intend to do harm," stated the EOC.

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