Based on a proposed law passed in the House of Assembly yesterday, Government will get powers to impose a curfew without the governor first declaring a state of emergency, and residents may be sent to prison for breaching the terms of any curfew imposed.
The bill, which the governor must approve before it becomes law, recommends that a person who breaches a curfew without lawful excuse should serve up to three months in prison, pay a maximum fine of $1,000, or both.
Lawmakers from both sides of the House expressed general support for the bill during a debate yesterday, but Opposition member Julian Fraser suggested stronger penalties.
“We are telling people, ‘OK the maximum penalty is $1,000’. If I go out one night and I steal $10,000 worth of products; what’s a $1,000? Ten percent. Sounds like a good business deal to me. Pay $1,000 and you go home with $9,000.”
Why are we afraid to send a clear message that you don’t go around stealing people’s property?” Fraser said. It is not clear if his suggestion was accepted as final deliberations on bills in the House are not open to the press.
Members of the House were fast-tracking the Curfew Act in order for it to replace the state of emergency that was expected to end last night. Governor Augustus Jaspert last month imposed the state of emergency to counter widespread looting and disorder after category 5 hurricane Irma hit the territory on September 6.
While lamenting the looting and break-ins that happened, members of the House agreed that the Curfew Act will assist in maintaining law and order when necessary.
Fraser, along with Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie, said the Curfew Bill should have been passed years ago.
Minister of Health and Social Development Ronnie Skelton noted: “[Currently], a curfew could only be called during a state of emergency… You can’t anticipate that you need a curfew until a hurricane [or other disaster] comes.” Skelton said the new legislation, which will address that issue, allows for a curfew to be imposed in advance of a disaster if Government deems it necessary.
Meanwhile, in his contribution to the debate, Minister of Education and Culture Myron Walwyn outlined some benefits of the proposed Curfew Act, which he said has ‘good flexibility’.
“If you have a natural disaster, you want the territory to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible, but people can’t come out and clean up their businesses and different things after the curfew time. That, in and of itself, could be counterproductive to moving the country forward in a very swift way. So, in the legislation (Curfew Act), there are provisions for exemptions,” Walwyn explained.
“Within the [curfew] order, you’ve given exemption to a particular class of persons or individuals that you know the service that they are providing is perhaps important to the overall recovery effort. So, while the curfew might be in place for everybody else, because of the nature of the work under any circumstances that these persons may perform, they can be properly exempted under the piece of legislation.”
Walwyn however stated that any class of persons who make a detour – whether going or coming from work during curfew hours – may be found guilty of an offence.
“For example… if a person coming from work makes a stop by the rum shop to get a little shot of Brugal, you’ll be captured by the law because it says ‘without any detour or any stop,” Walwyn further reasoned.
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