Unions give police legal letter on right to protest
The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and members of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) yesterday delivered a legal letter to the office of the acting Commissioner of Police (CoP), Stephen Williams, at Edward Street, Port of Spain.
The unions said they hope it would lead to further dialogue on the topic of whether citizens of this country can legally engage in protest/
picket action without seeking approval from the police.
The letter was drafted by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, and it quotes several sources and precedents to support the view that citizens should not have to get approval from the police in order to protest.
President general of the OWTU Ancel Roget sought Maharaj’s opinion following his arrest in 2013 for staging an unauthorised protest.
The letter was not delivered to the acting Commissioner but handed over to Senior Superintendent of Police for the Western Division Ishmael David, who gave his undertaking the document would be delivered to Williams.
Speaking to members of the media shortly afterwards, Roget explained that last year, the OWTU had met with the acting Commission-
er on the issue, and as a result, they attained the services of the Senior Counsel to give his legal opinion on the issue.
According to Roget, Maharaj came to the same opinion as the union, and he presented several such arguments in the legal letter.
“Right now, the acting Commissioner of Police holds a contrary view. We hold the view that you do not have to get that permission. There are a number of things that are happening in this society today, and we know for a fact that between now and 2015, there will be a number of reasons for citizens to raise their voice against the type of poor governance that is given out to them.
“In that regard, once it is not a march or a public meeting or so, you do not have to get police permission. The action this morning at the delivery of this document to the acting Commissioner of Police is not just on behalf of the trade union movement, but it is on behalf of every citizen of Trinidad and Toba-
go, protecting our constitutional right to raise our voices against issues that affect our daily lives,” Roget said.
Roget also maintained even though they had reached out to the top CoP, the delivery of the letter would not change the way unions operate in this country.
“We continue to maintain strongly that it is a right guaranteed by the Constitution and that is backed up by the Senior Counsel’s opinion, which we delivered.
“Once the need arises, we will have peaceful, lawful protests for which we would not seek and obtain police permission. I want to say that deliberately. We don’t have to get the police permission to stage a public demonstration, and peaceful pro-
tests are distinct from public marches and marches on the street. That is a different thing.
“For that (marches), we will seek and obtain police permission, but for protest action, against a minister, any minister, against the Government, against the Prime Minister, to hold a placard, demonstrate discontent for the way in which the country is being governed; no police officer, from the lowest rank to the highest rank, should have the authority to arrest or chastise any member of the public for exercising that right. That is guaranteed by the Constitution, and we will do that once the need arises,” Roget said.