In an unprecedented incident Thursday in Kingstown, two opposition members of the St.Vincent and the Grenadines House of Assembly were forcibly removed from the legislative chamber by police after they defied the speaker’s order to take their seats.
Assembly Hendrick Alexander called in law-enforcment officers to remove the lawmakers after repeated attempts to get them to stand down. As a result, Sen. Vynette Frederick and West Kingstown M.P., Daniel Cummings, received injuries to their shin and knee, and shoulder respectively, according to Oposition Leader Arnhim Eustace.
Eustace, a former prime minister and president of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), said both had been treated at a private medical facility on the outskirts of the capital.
The incident occurred after the opposition leader rose on a point of order, requesting that the prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, refrain from proceeding with proposed amendments to Section 51 of the Representation of the People Act.
The amendments called for changes to the Criminal Procedures Code – which were passed in January but are yet to be signed by Governor General Dr. Frederick Ballantyne – that have generated intense public debate and opposition in the country.
Eustace told Parliament that Gonsalves should withdraw the bills because they infringed Vincentians’ rights and freedoms, “and threatens our democracy.”
The Speaker had asked Eustace to take his seat so that the prime minister could respond, but the opposition leader refused.
“If you do not take your seat to have this matter addressed, then I will just note the point of order and ask the prime minister to proceed with the motion, as was moved on the bill,” the Speaker said.
But Eustace refused.
“Having asked you to sit down, if you do not, I will ask you to leave the House of Assembly immediately. I have pleaded with you. I have begged you, and I am asking you to do so of your own will and volition; and if you do not do so, then I will ask a member to move a motion on that behalf so that you may leave the House of Assembly,” Alexander added, and continued.
“But, again, I give you an opportunity to sit and let us proceed with the business.”
After the opposition leader’s continued refusal, Alexander then asked Eustace to leave the House, but he stood his ground forcing the Speaker to suspend the House for about 10 minutes, during which time the opposition leader remained standing.
When the session resumed, the Speaker requested the Sergeant-at-Arms to escort Eustace out of Parliament, but seven opposition MPs formed a protective ring around him.
The Speaker then called on members of the police to assist the Sergeant-at-Arms to evict the legislators.
Eustace told reporters that his daughter, Maia — a former Caribbean Life assistant editor who recently was called to the Bar in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, was “badly shaken” after she allegedly was “thrown down” the stairs of the House by police officers.
The opposition leader said that the two NDP lawmakers were manhandled down the stairs after the speaker ordered their eviction from the chamber.
Eustace said he was dragged down the stairs by police officers, while his daughter, who was unaware of the fracas, was attempting to to enter the gallery when she too was thrown out.
Afterwards, Alexander stressed that the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must, at all times, be respected.
“Seventeen years, I have been a member of this parliament, and I have never witnessed such disrespect for this honorable house as I have witnessed now,” he said.
“And, I must say, as long as I remain speaker of this honourable house, I will insist on all times that law and order be prevailed in this parliament, and the Constitution must be respected at all times,” he added.
Gonsalves, too, denounced the behavior of the opposition legislators, saying that what was “witnessed today by the opposition has never occurred in this parliament.
“Clearly, Mr. Speaker, they came here collectively, as we would say on the streets, ‘to mek a bad,” he told parliament.
He told Parliament that Eustace “simply stood his ground in contemplatious disregard of the authority of the Speaker and of the House”.
He said the opposition leader’s call for the Bill to be withdrawn, along with the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill, is weak, since Section 16 of the Constitution states that any infringement of anyone’s rights or any allegation of any such infringement can be redressed by the aggrieved individual applying to the High Court.
The NDP had won seven of the 15 seats in Parliament in the December general elections to the incumbent Unity Labor Party’s (ULP) eight.