By Lincoln DePradine
Vincentian nationals in Canada and the United States have begun what’s expected to be a series of public protests, saying their action is not political but aims to “raise awareness’’ on issues plaguing St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), such as the “perversion’’ of the country’s justice system and alleged abuse of power by police officers.
“We want police brutality to be stopped,’’ Vincentian-Canadian Andrea Weeks told The Caribbean Camera during a protest last Friday in Scarborough.
Weeks and fellow protestor Maxine Gibson insisted that there is “absolutely’’ no political motivation to the protests.
Gibson, a Scarborough resident, said they would like the Vincentian government, headed by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, to do more listening.
“When you’re not doing right by the people and the people are speaking out, it’s the time for the government to listen to the people,’’ said Gibson.
“We’re here just lending voice to the people. So many things there, it’s not right on any humanitarian level. People should not be faced with police brutality because they’ve taken up their constitutional right to go and protest.’’
Last Friday’s protest was led by representatives of “Justice for All’’, a group founded in St Vincent, and “Rise Horouna’’ that describes itself as a nonpartisan citizen-powered grassroots movement’’, which “envelopes equality, integrity and humanity’’ and “believes in the oneness of St Vincent and the Grenadines and its ability to prosperously soar’’.
A second similar protest also was scheduled for last Friday in front of the Centennial Flame at the Parliament Building in Ottawa.
“Wherever we are, we are going to give support to our brothers and sisters in St Vincent,’’ Weeks emphasized.
Vaccinating against the Coronavirus has been one of the issues of disagreement between the government and some Vincentians.
“Also very big is the mandating of vaccines,’’ said Weeks. “No jab, no job – that is what St Vincent is saying to their frontline workers.’’
On August 5, a protest was held in the Vincentian capital by unions representing nurses, police and other workers, who claimed that the government planned to mandate vaccines for certain employees. The mandatory vaccine claim has been denied by the government.
During the protest, Gonsalves stepped out of his car and tried to walk into parliament amid a crowd that had blocked the entrance and set roadblocks on fire.
Gonsalves, the 74-year-old who is in his fifth term as prime minister, was struck by a stone allegedly thrown by a demonstrator. One woman was later detained in connecting with the stone-throwing.
The prime minister was left bleeding after being hit just above his temple. He was flown to Barbados for medical treatment including an MRI scan.
“We do not condone violence,’’ Weeks said, commenting on the injury suffered by Gonsalves.
However, she said the incident also has highlighted the need for “proper healthcare’’ for St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Why don’t we have an MRI machine? If our prime minister has to leave St Vincent to get proper healthcare,’’ she said, “what is that saying to Vincentians?’’
According to Gibson, “what happened to the prime minister was unfortunate. But what was also unfortunate is that an incident with a stone led to warrants being issued for searches into homes of people, looking for guns and ammunition.’’
Prime Minister Gonsalves was injured with a stone, “and then we had police searches looking for guns and ammunition and seizing people’s cellphones and their electronic devices. That’s not right,’’ said Gibson.
Protestors also have complained about cases of individuals, such as Cornelius John, a shooting victim unable to work because of serious injuries to his leg. They charge that John is “another example of the perversion of our justice system’’ in SVG, and say the country “is being ruled by a brutal dictator who utilizes the police force as a tool of intimidation and retaliation against the people’’.
Other allegations levelled against the Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party administration are “corruption and nepotism’’ and “rampant political victimization’’.
Gibson said she and other protestors in Canada and the US want to bring international attention to St Vincent.
“We’re hoping that outside agencies would come and take a look and supply some assistance in bringing this government to be more humane with the citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines, when they’re expressing their displeasure with the government,’’ she said.
“More protests will be in the works,’’ Gibson added. “We, out here in the Diaspora, are standing with our people in St Vincent and the Grenadines.’’