T&T is grappling with economic migrants since Venezuelans began to seek refuge here and it is a fact that the country has seen an uptick in “certain of the crimes” as result of some of the migrant issues, says Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
“The Police Commissioner can speak to that himself,” Al-Rawi added in Senate on Tuesday.
“But suffice to say the number of murders has been noted to have risen as a result of some of our migration issues. I’m not talking only about Venezuela, I’m talking about other positions.”
The AG was piloting amendments to the Bail Act to deny bail for people with convictions, found in possession of guns. The bill prohibits bail for those on serious offences found with guns. Clauses include allowing a person to apply for bail if a trial has not started in 120 days or been completed in a year.
The proposed changes will be reviewed after five years and it requires a three-fifths majority vote for passage.
Al-Rawi admitted the bill may violate constitutional aspects and could be challenged in court. But he said statistics have shown a “cooling off period” often occurs with such legislation. He noted the UNC once brought similar law.
Al-Rawi noted the proliferation of guns entering T&T—4,387 between 2009 and 2019. This included a total of 43 sub-machine guns, rifles and shotguns. He noted 17,271 firearm matters in courts over the period.
“The phenomenon of machine guns alone and T&T’s murder statistics—T&T needs a fighting chance. We’re dealing with arms and ammunition coming from outside our jurisdiction...a prevalence of sub-machine guns, shotguns and rifles,” he said, asking if the Government should ignore the situation and the uptick in crime and economic migration.
Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, supporting the bill, said T&T should make it clear to its “bad boys” to “lay down your arms as Parliament won’t allow you to carry illegal arms. If you do there will be dire consequences. We have to draw a line—there’ve been too many weeping mothers and sudden deaths.”
“I remember a time when homes had no burglar-bars (sic) and you could leave your car unlocked. I went away last week and it was so refreshing not to feel threatened. T&T has lost so much, it no longer feels safe. We have a scourge of illegal arms. Because of what’s happening in Venezuela, guns are bartering tools—enough is enough. The carnage on streets, illegal gun trade, gang wars and weeping mothers show there’s just cause for the bill.”
Vieira suggested amendments to protect people who might be framed. He noted cases years ago where he had defended people who had been framed for gun and drug issues, adding that all sorts of issues arose including police taking shortcuts.
Opposition Senator Saddam Hosein, calling for the withdrawal of the bill, said it is not a time to give police added powers. He noted questions on the quality of evidence and prosecution recently and added police powers should not be increased when detection rates are only between 20 and 30 per cent. He noted a similar bail bill the UNC Government presented did not succeed. He said the long wait for ballistic reports, leaving those on remand to languish for years.
“We’re seeing a trend of bills violating constitutional rights—a growing dictatorship, the death of democracy,” he added, saying UNC would not support the bill.
- by Gail Alexander