Residents were kicked from the grounds of the House of Assembly (HoA) in Road Town where they had congregated to protest what they perceive to be the unfair treatment of Mark Vanterpool, who Speaker Julian Willock is refusing to swear in as Fourth District Representative.
BVI News understands that no permission was sought beforehand for the protest that took place Friday morning. Protesters were removed by police who were clad in riot gear.
However, Vanterpool, who described the protest as ‘peaceful’, said the removal was unnecessary.
“It’s unfortunate. It brings back memories to the US in the ’60s with the Martin Luther King, Jr demonstration. I don’t know what is the reason for that because this is the people’s House of Assembly. The compounds of the HoA is the people’s right,” Vanterpool said.
He continued: “This is an extremely peaceful demonstration. I see they (police) are searching the people who come into the House now, which is fine. If they are concerned about security they should do the right thing. But to be chasing people from the HoA’s yard, which is no threat, I think it is wrong. If they (police) were coming with ammunition, and that’s sad, it’s not democratic at all.”
He said he hopes that in “the future, we will be more democratic about that.”
“We are upset”
Residents told BVI News they are unhappy with the treatment of the member-elect.
“We are upset … so we prefer to stay on the side [of the road] to relax. The BVI is a nice place, but right now it ain’t got no rules or regulations, no morals, nothing. Everybody came together, and they vote in a government, but the government don’t like them. I’m protesting he (Vanterpool) deserve a second chance to get back to represent his people in the Fourth District,” one female protester told our media centre.
Another protester who only gave his name Hazack said: “This is a country of laws, and we are going to follow the law. But I don’t think we have to throw us out on the road.”
“I think he (Vanterpool) has been treated unfairly and I think they are taking this thing too far and there needs to be a stop to it because the Fourth District people need a representative,” another man said.
“He needs to get back his seat because we are suffering in the Fourth District. Mr Vanterpool is a good man and he always looking out for people,” said another protestor who gave her name as Sonia.
Costly court case
Meanwhile, Vanterpool who said he was pleased residents came to support him, pointed out that the legal battle is costly.
“It is really time to get on with this. A lot has to do with the Premier in making these decisions, and we will probably reach about a quarter million dollars by the time we finish, and we shouldn’t be paying that money when the court has already ordered,” he said.
Notably, the Opposition is set to question Premier Andrew Fahie on whether taxpayers are covering the cost of the legal team of the Speaker.
Behind the protest
Residents are specifically protesting Willock’s decision to contest the High Court’s ruling that Mark Vanterpool should be sworn in as Fourth District Representative.
The relatively small number of protestors were seen bearing placards bearing sentiments such as: “Respect democracy, Mr Speaker.”
Though the protesters were against him, Speaker Willock rose to acknowledge the protesters at the start of Friday morning’s sitting of the House. Willock said their presence is a welcomed sign that democracy is ‘alive in the territory’.
How the controversy started
The controversy first started on March 5 after Vanterpool submitted his resignation. After submitting the letter, he was advised that the letter should have been addressed to the Speaker of the House and not the Clerk.
Vanterpool then had a change of heart and requested in a second letter to be sworn-in. However, Willock acknowledged the letter and refused to have Vanterpool sworn-in.
Willock said he already accepted the resignation, even after the territory’s Attorney General, as well as the governor, concluded that Vanterpool’s resignation was ‘constitutionally invalid’.
When the matter went to court, Justice Ann-Marie Smith ruled that Vanterpool ought to be sworn in.
“The purported acceptance of that letter by the Speaker … does not, in the court’s view, create a vacant seat for the Fourth District, especially so in light of the letter from the Clerk of the House of Assembly dated March 13, 2019, and that of Mr Vanterpool’s dated March 14,” the court said when it ruled in favour of Vanterpool.
Days later, Speaker Willock filed an appeal to that ruling. Willock effectively argued that the court had no power to grant redress to Vanterpool. He said parliament should decide whether Vanterpool should be sworn in as Fourth District Representative.
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