UNC stages sixth Red House walkout on AG

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Red House. Photo by Jeff Mayers

COMPLAINING about feeling hot and uncomfortable, opposition senators walked out on Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, before he opened debate on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 2021 in the Senate on Thursday.

The first opposition walkout happened on June 12 in the House of Representatives, before Armour spoke on the Bills of Exchange (Amendment) Bill 2022 and the Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2022

On Tuesday, opposition senators walked out on the AG twice before his contributions in debates on the same bills.

The fourth walkout happened in the House on Wednesday, when Armour made a ministerial statement on public procurement legislation. The fifth came later in that sitting before Armour spoke on the National Insurance (Amendment) Bill.

On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar repeated her call for Armour to resign or be fired by the Prime Minister. The issue is his disqualification from the almost two-decade-old Piarco Airport corruption case in a Miami court.

Opposition Senator Wade Mark complained to Senate President Christine Kangaloo that the Parliament chamber seemed warmer than usual. “I feel uncomfortable.”

Mark asked for the sitting to be suspended briefly, saying he was concerned someone in the chamber could faint.

Kangaloo acknowledged there was a problem with the air conditioning unit and said within 20 minutes the matter would be rectified. She disagreed with Mark’s request to suspend the sitting.

As Armour rose to speak, opposition senators filed out of the chamber, making inaudible comments to their government counterparts on the way out.

Kangaloo told them as they walked out, “Members are free to leave the chamber, but must do so in silence.”

Unfazed by the opposition’s departure, Armour began by acknowledging the UNC’s support of the bill. He said it outlines clear distinctions between the public sex offender website and the national sex offender register.

The latter, Armour continued, is only accessible to law enforcement and not open to the public.

“Correspondence submitted to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service dated March 25, 2022 and received by the Office of the Attorney General, indicates that this national register is fully populated with the details of sex offenders for the year 2000 upwards to the present time.”

He said a sex offender’s DNA is among the information stored on the register.

Each police station has a sex offenders register. Armour said there is an e-register “which is a central repository of all information on sex offenders maintained by the TT Police Service criminal records office.”

On the public sex offender website, Armour said the police must await convictions for sexual offences and information from the register in order to publish it on the website.

He reminded senators, “The information regarding a registered sex offender shall not be published on the website, pending the determination for an application for exemption or an appeal and until the commissioner of police receives an order from the registrar.”

Government understood the fears of some people of vigilante justice against alleged sex offenders he said.

“A balance has to be struck between the information given to the public and the sex offender’s right to privacy.”

Responding to a complaint by Independent Senator Charrise Seepersad that she could not access information on the website, Armour said this would be investigated

When Armour ended his contribution, Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial returned to the chamber to express concern that not enough was being done to detect and convict sex offenders.

“Crimes of a sexual nature are exploding.”

While acknowledging Armour’s point about balancing the rights of victims and offenders, Lutchmedial wondered if there were timelines for removing information about the latter from the register or the website if they are found to be innocent.

She warned this could be detrimental to people’s future, as the information could make them targets of unnecessary abuse. Lutchmedial was also concerned that information provided to the register or the website may not cover people who may be child sex offenders.