Premier issued with ultimatum during protest march
Government have been issued an ultimatum to reconsider its position on PRC holder legislation within seven days or face an escalation in public unrest.
The demand was delivered to Premier Michael Dunkley yesterday afternoon after more than 500 protesters marched on the Cabinet Building.
The protest was organised by pressure group the People’s Campaign and the Bermuda Trade Union Congress after Government ditched an appeal of a court ruling that enables hundreds of Permanent Resident Certificate holders to obtain Bermuda status through a “sleeping provision” or loophole in legislation.
A letter presented to Mr Dunkley by People’s Campaign leader Reverend Nicholas Tweed urged Government to immediately suspend any Status applications until a comprehensive immigration reform policy has been devised.
Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert later revealed that the Premier had been given seven days to respond to the request and that, depending on that response, a second phase of protests that could be “completely different” from earlier, peaceful protests, could be launched.
Demonstrators carrying banners gathered at Victoria Park in Hamilton just after midday.
One protester, Valerie Dill, from Southampton, said she was taking part because she believed in standing up for what was right “and a wrong has been committed here”.
“If you claim to represent us as a people, then you have to acknowledge our feelings and the Government is not doing that,” Ms Dill, retired, said.
“People say that black people act on emotion but we’re not acting on emotion, we’re acting on our history and what has been done to us in the past.
“It is almost like we are moving back into slavery, where we are being told what is being done rather than being consulted.”
After a delay of more than half-an-hour, Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert eventually addressed the crowd, telling them that he hoped the demonstration would be “a little different than the other marches”.
He also stressed that the unions were not opposed to PRC holders obtaining status, but that it should be done through legitimate, rather than erroneously-drafted laws.
“I want you to understand and appreciate where we are because too many Bermudians are taking the view that we are against PRCs getting status — that is absolutely not true,” Mr Furbert said.
“Everybody is consistent in what we’re saying. They should go ahead and grant PRCs status, but there should be a process and we should sit down and work out the process to make sure everything is correct.”
Mr Furbert highlighted the plight of one woman who had been resident for 22 years — and under current laws would not qualify for status.
“So the process needs to be handled in the correct manner,” Mr Furbert added. “The Minister says there’s a loophole in the law and the Government is hiding behind the loophole in the law.
“They should not be allowed to hide behind the law — that’s what this demonstration is about today — making sure Government does the right thing, because the people need to speak to them.”
Mr Furbert also warned that Government “needs to be careful” to ensure it represented all Bermudians.
“Right now they’re making decisions for some of the people and not all of the people,” he claimed.
Rev Tweed, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s St Paul’s in Hamilton, then addressed the crowd, saying that there had been a great deal of “misinformation” over the PRC issue.
“If you know that there is a loophole in the way that the law has been written, the honourable thing for any good legislator to do would be to suspend political partisanship and to close the loophole,” he told the crowd.
He criticised a Government poll which suggested 57 percent of Bermudians supported granting status to PRC holders, claiming that the question had been misleadingly phrased.
“Polls can be determined by the question that you ask and therefore the poll was used to legitimise a policy that had already been determined,” he said.
“We want good government, we want honest government but from what I understand there’s a particular party that actually ran on a platform of integrity, honesty, good government and, listening to the people.
“We don’t need people to listen paternalistically. We need people to listen in an informed manner that is reflected in the policy that you implement.
“That’s government, that’s democracy and so why are we here? We’re here for good government. Why are we here?
“We’re here because we believe in democracy. Why are we here? Because we want justice — justice for all Bermudians including the hard-working decent PRC holders that have been caught in the middle of this.
“We want justice for them and so we are going to march up to the Cabinet Office in another effort to be heard.
“We have had extensive conversations pleading and imploring with the Government to create a more open process and it appears as if they went ahead and did what they wanted to do anyway. And we’re saying no more. Enough is enough.”
Protesters then marched through the streets of Hamilton, arriving at the Cabinet grounds at around 1pm, chanting slogans such as “Enough is enough,” and “What do we want? Justice.”
Mr Dunkley and the majority of his Cabinet then came out of the building to be greeted by a wave of jeers from the crowd.
Mr Dunkley then had a short conversation with Rev Tweed, before accepting an envelope and retreating back into the Cabinet Building with his party colleagues. The Premier did not make any address to the public.
Following the brief meeting, Rev Tweed told The Royal Gazette that he had presented the Premier with a request that Government reconsider its decision not to shut the loophole and that it immediately suspend any Status applications until a comprehensive immigration reform policy has been formulated.
And Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert explained to the crowd that the Premier had been given seven days to respond to the request or risk further demonstrations.
“Reverend Tweed has now presented a document to the Premier,” Mr Furbert said. “He gave an undertaking that he was going to look at it and he’ll get back to us.
“But I’ll say this to you. This is just phase one and I want you to pay attention because this is just phase one and phase two can be completely different to this phase here. Take that to the bank. Stay tuned for part two.”
Asked by one member of the crowd what he meant by a second phase, Mr Furbert said that would depend on the Premier’s response.
“We’re waiting for a response from the Premier. After that response comes, that will dictate phase two. We expect a response within seven days.”
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