If among us there are some still resistant to the idea that we were at least complicit in the suspected conspiracy to keep us forever shackled with slave chains, if only metaphoric, they need look no further than our Public Order Act, officially defined as “an Act relating to the maintenance of public order with reference to public meetings, marches and processions and for connected matters.” It need be stated at this early juncture that throughout its 1979 election campaign the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s main promise was that if elected it would dump particularly odious sections of the Public Order Act that had been designed as a weapon of SLP destruction by the John Compton government, at any rate, so the party claimed. That promise, like the SLP’s 70s promise to free up the weed, remains undelivered!
Ironically, the Labour Party of former jurist Allan Louisy, George Odlum, Peter Josie, Tom Walcott, Kenny Anthony et al, had been in office less than a month when some of its recently acquired members turned a scheduled UWP thank-you rally into a nightmare, effectively providing good reason—campaign promise notwithstanding—to leave the dreaded Public Order Act intact. Bad habits die hard.
Reminders of what transpired in William Peter Boulevard on the evening of 17 July, 1979 are evident to this day—in the shape of burglar bars and other devices designed to protect commercial houses in the vicinity from any sudden outbreak of the kind of hooliganism experienced on the unforgettable evening. By the time the explosion had burned itself out (the SSU having been officially ordered back to barracks) at least one prominent former UWP parliamentarian had been brought to his knees by the impact of a rock to the forehead, tossed by unidentified messy hands. Several not-so-innocent lookers-on had to be admitted, like the stoned MP, at Victoria Hospital. Their injuries ranged from superficial face cuts to deep body wounds suffered by looters in their mad rush in and out of glass store windows shattered by what the authorities pointedly described as “river stones not normally seen in the boulevard!”
We need not dwell on the Ziplock-type sacks filled with human excreta that suddenly rained all over the UWP’s platform, and in the faces of innocent hundreds of sad party faithful who had shown up for the event, if only to cry on one another’s shoulders and to hear from their revered leader John Compton. But that’s precisely the kind of history some have labeled “useless information.” Understandably. It’s a little like discovering by accident you are a superfluous creature, the consequence of some chicken backs-for-sex back alley arrangement—as the late George Odlum had graphically put it so many years ago, while holding forth on the plight of the local indigent population, females in particular!
So, about the Public Order Act that proves how dangerous can be politicians with elections alone on their minds. Consider the following (Section 29) that became law with, as I vividly recall, little opposition from the Opposition: “. . . any person who in any public place or at any public meeting wears any uniform signifying his or her association with any political organization, or with the promotion of any political object, commits an offence under this Act.” What does that mean? That a woman is breaking the law who attends a public UWP rally gussied up in red, from dreadlocked head to rose-tinted toenails? And what of the gentleman who attends a Castries market steps performance wearing a yellow tee shirt featuring a silk-screened torch? Is he likely to spend a weekend in Custody Suites?
Section 31 (6): “A woman shall not, under a warrant issued under this subsection be searched except by a female police officer.” Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? But is it also illegal that a gentleman be searched by a female police officer? What about lesbian police personnel? Are they free to roam? And keeping in mind the times we’re living in, what about transgender males and females? Who is legally permitted to search them? Fellow transgenders?
Section 37 (1): A person commits an offence under the Public Order Act who “publishes or distributes at a public meeting or during the course of a public march written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting; or uses at a public meeting or during the course of a public march words which are threatening, abusive or insulting, being matter or words that may reasonably be interpreted as likely to stir up, or capable of stirring up, hatred against any section of the public of Saint Lucia distinguished by race, color, religion, profession, calling or employment.” Penalty on summary conviction: “a fine not exceeding $2500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
So, does “coolie man” count as race baiting and worse? Does “Guy Joseph is a thief”? “Guy Joseph practices obeah”? Is labeling an opponent a money launderer or a rapist at a public rally an offence punishable under the Public Order Act? What about that election-time war declaration against Allen and Michael Chastanet? Is it in conflict with Section 38 of the Public Order Act that prohibits any statement “intended or likely to incite or induce or is capable of inciting or inducing to kill or do physical injury or to assault any person or class of persons”? Penalty for anyone found guilty of inciting others to make war is liable to a fine of not less than $3000 or to imprisonment for two years or to both fine and imprisonment.
For those of us prone to complaining on talk shows the way our protectors carry out their duties, be warned that under the POA, it is an offence “to cause disaffection among the police officers . . . or to bring the police force into hatred or contempt.” I found the definition under the Act of “political meeting” quite inventive: “Any meeting held in a public place for the purpose of furthering or criticizing the aims, objects, action or performance of any political party or for the purpose of supporting or opposing the candidature of any individual as against any other or others . . .”
To avoid your comminglings in Constitution Park or at Pigeon Point being misperceived, I suggest you meet in your backyard, your balcony, your bathroom or your bedroom, depending on the number of participants. Under local law, citizens are not permitted to talk about our country’s governance—unless they have declared themselves a political party, if only of ONE. Interesting?
And now I’ve whetted your appetite, dear reader, take a gander for yourself at our Public Order Act—to which there is a George Odlum, Peter Josie, John Compton backstory. Oh, and let’s not leave Allan Louisy out of it. As for the remembered 17 July, 1979 bloody debacle in William Peter Boulevard, there were no arrests; no police charges. Not for the illegal disposal of human waste; not with looting; not with assaulting a fellow citizen—not with inciting.
There has never been an investigation into the multi-million-dollar disaster. Nothing. You check it?