January 22, 2013
In the event former Premier Dr Ewart Brown, a medical doctor, and Lt Col David Burch, a former regimental officer, took legal advice at all; this Uighur caper was a blunder of colossal and disastrous constitutional and international proportions. Any lawyer of constitutional and international law expertise worth his or her salt would have never counselled these two to slip out into the dead of night to allegedly rescue the Uighurs who now require further rescuing from the confines of Bermuda. It should have been patently obvious to even the most unassuming that then, as it is now, this was an ill-fated, half-baked, ill-thought through harebrained adventure destined for an inglorious end. The post-facto claim of humanitarian intent and content rings hollow, is void and vacuous when considered in the totality of the circumstances both before and after. One expects a great deal more from a Premier and a high-ranking Minister of Immigration charged with the sober and proper stewardship and administration of our country.
Moreover, the claim that the Progressive Labour Party Government, or the party, supported this scatterbrained and cavalier jaunt, before or after, is duplicitous in the extreme and is certainly not borne out in the aftermath or the facts. In Dr Browns own words, he had to withstand a no-confidence vote in his administration on this issue. Before that, he experienced a few spectacular resignations and castigations from his Cabinet colleagues, some on the floor of the House of Assembly, and a great deal of disquiet from the rank and file of the PLP. This fractious period was the beginning and pivotal point for the mass exodus of the electorate generally, and the subsequent departure of the bedrock of the PLP supporters, and some members, in particular in what mushroomed into a general and silent movement away from the PLP. This dealignment was expedited and exacerbated under Premier Paula Coxs weak and contradictory policies, practices and stances and culminated in the eventual downfall of the PLP at the recent polls. In toto, this Uighur affair was a bad deed that was appropriately punished. It was punished, together with other misfortunes, with the ignominy, embarrassment and counterproductive position of being on the backbenches for perhaps another five years for the PLP. Thats more than poetic justice. Thats a backward step of gigantic proportions for a party that touts itself as progressive and labour. A giant step that it may well be nigh on impossible any time soon or at all to reverse.
On the other hand, the lawyers for the Uighurs cannot naively and seriously believe that Premier Craig Cannonier can simply wave his magical legislative and statutory wand and poof, the Uighurs, together with the other unfortunate long-term Portuguese, Jamaican, Permanent Resident Certificate holders etc and otherwise deserving residents, will suddenly become citizens or status-holding Bermudians. The process and procedures are far, far more complex than that as any constitutional, international law and immigration lawyer would or should know. Short of Independence, the Bermuda Government cannot give status or citizenship, and certainly not asylum as misstated and misunderstood by Dr Brown, to anyone including its own inhabitants under our present constitutional arrangements and legislation with the United Kingdom. As such the Uighurs, inadvertently or otherwise, have been brought to Bermuda as illegal immigrants through no fault of their own. Their present legal, immigration and constitutional status to live and reside in Bermuda is highly questionable, even inhumane, and sets a very bad legal and public policy precedent.
It follows then that Mr Cannonier, as Premier, and our Parliament are simply not constitutionally and legally empowered to accomplish anytime soon or at all, what the Uighurs lawyers are seeking to accomplish through their plaintive call to these two institutions. Neither, in fact, is the UK under the present disqualifying and ineligible criteria and history of the Bermuda Uighurs empowered to grant the them status or citizenship. In short, there is no legal or constitutional basis upon which to do so. Any amendments in this regard that the UK would have to make to accommodate this request by the Uighurs lawyers could require a constitutional conference and open the floodgates to others entering or wishing to enter Bermuda. The UK and likely a vast number of Bermudians would be loathe to support such a move. There would no doubt be a loud, sustained and bilious public outcry.
The solution then is not a dialogue between Premier Cannonier and the UK alone. The solution is a studied, sincere, meaningful and very extensive dialogue between Premier Cannonier, the Governor, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK government, the Peoples Republic of China and the USA. The primary goal of such a meeting, or meetings, should focus on expeditiously resolving the plight of these unfortunate men and their families who have become unwitting and undeserving political footballs as a result of the incredible and incredulous puerility, the foolishness and the dictatorial and high-handed irresponsibility of two people who should have known better. How could this doctor and colonel have placed the Uighurs in this untenable position by bringing them into Bermuda in such an unceremonious and undignified manner; particularly when these two knew, we could not give what we were not empowered to give? At what point in their Machiavellian thinking did they arrive at that brilliant conclusion? Really, how humanitarian is that? How could these two put Bermuda and its people in this unfortunate position? Just who do they think they are in the grander scheme of things? Will history absolve them or further condemn them? You be the judge.
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