The Tommy Lee Sparta incident: a body blow for free movement within CARICOM
With two experienced lawyers in the Cabinet, it is difficult to understand why the Roosevelt Skerrit Administration made such a devastating blunder in the immigration matter concerning the controversial Jamaican Dance Hall artiste Tommy Lee Sparta. But it would have more serious implications for Dominica's governance if it is true that Mr Skerrit received the correct legal advice and ignored Messrs. Ian Douglas and Levi Peter, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Tourism and the Attorney General respectively.
Nevertheless, there may be serious implications for Dominica because of the treatment of Tommy Lee Sparta who was denied entry into Dominica on Sunday night. You will recall that Tommy Lee was scheduled to perform in Portsmouth on Sunday night last week but he was denied entry at Melville Hall airport and detained at the Marigot Police Station.
We note that show promoter Cabral Douglas said on national radio that the artiste and his entourage we treated "like dogs" and Tommy Lee, who was nursing an injury was forced to sleep on cardboard sheets on the concrete floor of the police station. Douglas added that that was a very inappropriate way to treat any human being and more so a CARICOM national in spite of the fact that Tommy Lee's lyrics and on-stage antics are definitely un-Christian.
It seems to us Cabinet was unaware of the case of another Jamaican who was denied entry into a CARICOM state and the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on the matter.
Recall that Shanique Myrie claimed that on 14 March 2011, she was allowed entry at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados for one month when her passport was stamped, and that two hours later she was taken by a female immigration officer to a bathroom where she was allegedly finger raped, abused with foul language, threatened and then denied entry.
The government of Barbados was accused of violating its obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government decision in 2007. Myrie's lawyers argued that their client denial of her right of entry was unjustifiable, arbitrary and discriminatory. But lawyers for the Barbados government argued that it upheld the position of the immigration authorities that its officers had acted in accordance with the law and regulations.
In the end the CCJ awarded Myrie BD$77, 240, to be paid by the Barbadian government, for the Jamaican's wrongful denial of entry into Barbados. "The liability of the State of Barbados with respect to this breach, given its seriousness and the causal link between it and the damages Ms Myrie incurred, has been established. The Court is entitled to and does award her both her pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages as the combined amount is substantial," the judgment, signed by President of the CCJ, the Right Hon. Justice Dennis Byron, along with six other judges, stated.
In reaching that historic decision, the CCJ relied heavily on Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas of 2001 which states that "Member States commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the community". And also on Article 46 (2b) which recommends that "member states shall establish appropriate legislative, administrative and procedural arrangements to provide for movement of Community nationals into and within their jurisdiction without harassment or the imposition of impediment."
The CCJ added: "The full extent of the right is that both entry and stay of a Community national must not only be "definite", but also "hassle free" or without harassment or the imposition of impediments. These are essential elements of that right."
That case as well as the Tommy Lee Sparta incident raises questions about the relevance of CARICOM to the citizens of the Caribbean and whether their governments have done enough to address the problem of restrictions of the free movement of Caribbean nationals.
The failure of CARICOM to address burning issues such as free movement was the issue that influenced Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to write, sometime ago, to Irwin LaRocque, the Secretary General of CARICOM. According to Dr. Gonsalves, despite the many empty promises and false hope, free movement within the Community remains a distant dream. And despite what the leaders may tell us, free movement within CARICOM is nothing but free. The nightmare that is the skills certificate programme – itself a problem because it creates a class system by allowing only a limited category of people to qualify – is a charade.
But what's more worrying about free movement is the treatment of Caribbean nationals by the establishment when they visit other Caribbean countries. In his letter to LaRocque, Gonsalves stated that Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines remained "largely dissatisfied" about the current status of freedom of movement.
It is ironic that Barbados, which has responsibility for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) within the CARICOM quasi-cabinet, has been among the most unwelcoming to Caribbean nationals. In 2008, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) there won the general election mainly on a platform of fear and xenophobia, campaigning on a "Home Drums Beat First" platform.
Because of the current Tommy Lee Sparta incident and the recent Shanique Myrie case the fathers of Caribbean integration – Errol Barrow, V.C. Bird, Forbes Burnham and Eric Williams – who in December 1965 signed the Dickenson Bay Agreement establishing the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA), the precursor to CARICOM, must be turning in their graves right now at what their successors have done to this sacred institution. Clearly, Ralph Gonsalves does not want to turn in his grave, hence his deep frustration.