AG: New fireworks laws coming

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister Donna Cox looks at the damage done to the seven homes, with two of the fire victims on Quarry Street on Sunday. PHOTO COURTESY MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT –

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (AG) says the ministry is looking at legislative reform regarding fireworks and will soon begin public consultations on the issue.

He did not give a specific start date for the consultations but said that the ministry’s communication’s arm was working on the schedule.

This also comes after fireworks were cited as the cause of a fire on Quarry Street, Port of Spain, on New Year’s Day which left about 23 people without homes, clothes and other essentials. Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox also visited those affected on Sunday and did an assessment of their immediate needs.

Al-Rawi said the matter of legislative reform surrounding fireworks has been the subject of discussion over the many years.

“As the Law Reform Commission (an independent statutory body), we undertook an exercise to consider this matter and we looked at several documents. There was a joint select committee report, there were previous incarnations of amendments to this particular law, in this exercise we settled at the Attorney General’s office a draft bill which I took to cabinet in December 2021,” he said in the phone interview on Sunday.

The cabinet then felt that the AG should engage the public on the matter as, “the legislation treats with a number of policy issues that the cabinet believe we ought to bring to the public’s attention first and then come back to the cabinet with a settled position.”

The policy issues such as the types of fireworks which will be permitted, the times fireworks will be permitted, the zones in which fireworks can be used – the treatment of animals, zoos, hospitals and residential areas – the licensing and permitting aspects and the incorporation of the use of a mix between offences at law and fixed-penalty arrangements, moving away from the summons and $1,000 approach to go to court, he said.

Four of the seven homes destroyed leaving 23 homeless in the early morning News year Day Fire on Quarry Street, East Port of Spain, Saturday. – Jeff Mayers

He added it was a significant reform of the law and there were heartfelt views on the matter with some people being inclined toward the use of fireworks and others very much opposed to it.

Al-Rawi said he could say, without clouding his own view on the law, that he considers fireworks to be very dangerous and have to be regulated.

He added he is very concerned, as are many of his colleagues, about its impact on the vulnerable including animal vulnerability.

“While I balance that against freedom of expression and other aspects in this country, it is clear we need to take the step.”

Al-Rawi said the public consultation would bring conclusion to the work done and that the policy paper and draft legislation was already done.

Al-Rawi said he took note of the loss of homes at Quarry Street and he recalled that in San Fernando, a few years ago, on the Marabella Train Line, there were two houses destroyed on Christmas Day because of an open flame.

“Management of how we treat with these issues is a critical issue and I am very pleased we have done the work and that we can go and bring it to conclusion at this point.”

Minister Donna Cox consoles Quarry Street New Year’s Day fire victim Renwick Douglas on Sunday. PHOTO COURTESY MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT –

Cox said the Ministry did an assessment on Sunday and it will then know how it could assist the people affected by the fire.

She and a team visited the victims of Saturday’s fire at Quarry Street, Port of Spain, on Sunday.

Cox also spoke with the area’s MP Stuart Young about the matter.

She said the ministry was working with the Port of Spain City Corporation, the area’s councillor, the MP and the NGO Is There Not A Cause.

She said the ministry, at this time, could offer those affected rental assistance.

Cox said the families were asked to look for somewhere to live so that the ministry could assist them with the rent. She added that there was also a clothing grant and a grant for books for children.

Counselling was also offered to those affected, she said.

The ministry also delivered hampers to the affected people.

Minister Donna Cox speaks to Quarry Street New Year’s Day fire victim Nicole Bennett about the Rental Assistance Grant on Sunday. – Melissa Doughty

She said based on the situation at Quarry Street, she was in agreement with any legislation that would save a family.

“We are family services and we would not like to have a family on the street because of a fireworks situation.”

Nicole Bennett – one of the people affected by the fire – said it was caused by a Chinese Lantern (a fire lantern).

Bennett said the lantern landed on her roof.

“Thank God we were outside. Because we just walked outside to light the fireworks. We walked outside with our bag of fireworks and light one and see the neighbour come running down, ’Nicole, I smelling smoke.’

“When I look behind me, all I was seeing is flames through my door…”

Cox said she was personally concerned about the situation with fireworks.

Cox said the ministry was implementing a first responder system for situations like these so all organisations and agencies could respond as quickly as possible.

Bennett said she was happy that they got some assistance.

“It could have been more tragic than it was and I am grateful and thankful to God that my children were outside. If it was five minutes earlier my son and I would have been in the house and we would have died…”

Some of the affected residents asked Cox about rebuilding their homes and she said she would consult with the National Commission for Self Help Ltd.