Belongers a ‘tiny fraction’ of athletes

  • Workable reform needed: lawyer Peter Sanderson (File photograph)

    Workable reform needed: lawyer Peter Sanderson (File photograph)

A court ruling that cleared non-Bermudian “belongers” to compete in sport for the island affected “a tiny fraction” of youth athletes, a top lawyer said.

Peter Sanderson, who has handled cases involving people found to be belongers to Bermuda under the Constitution, added: “Maybe people didn’t appreciate how few people this is — it boils down to probably a couple of dozen children.”

Mr Sanderson was speaking after Alia Atkinson, a Jamaican Olympic swimmer, said on a visit to Bermuda to run a clinic that the ambiguous status of some Bermuda residents was “heart-wrenching”.

Narinder Hargun, the Chief Justice, ruled last December that two people “belonging to Bermuda” as children of naturalised British Overseas Territories Citizens had the same right to compete in sports events as “a citizen and/or national under Bermuda law”.

The Chief Justice wrote: “In my judgment, Bermuda law affords a large measure of equality to the concepts of Bermuda status and belonging to Bermuda.”

Belongers cover a mix of categories that Mr Sanderson said reflected the make-up of the island.

It included naturalised British Overseas Territories citizens, as well as the spouses of Bermudians and British Overseas Territory citizens and holders of permanent resident’s certificates.

Mr Sanderson said, in terms of young people eligible to compete in sport, belongers represented perhaps “one in 20 of the number of Bermudian children”

He added: “Out of that, how many of them are in a sport? It’s a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction.”

Mr Sanderson, who is the head of litigation at Benedek Lewin Ltd, said that Bermudians should not feel disadvantaged at having to compete against belongers, who could hold multiple citizenship.

He added: “The suggestion that belongers can represent two countries, whereas Bermudians cannot, is false.

“All Bermudians born in Bermuda have British nationality in addition to British Overseas Territory citizenship — they are eligible to represent the UK in sporting events if they so choose and are selected to do so.”

Mr Sanderson added: “There are also many, many Bermudians who have a third nationality through a parent — commonly American, Jamaican, Canadian or Portuguese, among others.

“I understand there are Bermudian athletes who have opted to compete for other countries in the past.

“Ultimately though, sports federations do not allow dual-national athletes to hop back and forth between nationalities. You have to stick with one or the other.”

Mr Sanderson said the Chief Justice’s ruling involved the Bermuda Amateur Swimming Association, but set a precedent that could affect other sports.

He added: “It’s not binding on the other sports bodies, but they should be able to see what the law is. The court has ruled on what the situation is. If other sporting bodies choose not to follow it, then they could themselves face legal action.”

Mr Sanderson admitted that long-term residents and belongers obtaining Bermuda status was “contentious”.

Days of demonstrations shut down Parliament when the former One Bermuda Alliance administration attempted to table Pathways to Status legislation in March 2016.

The legislation was designed to make it easier for long-term residents to gain permanent residency and status.

The Bill was withdrawn after the protests for a review intended to lead to comprehensive immigration reform.

Wayne Caines, the national security minister, is responsible for immigration under the ruling Progressive Labour Party government.

He said last month that he expected “key elements” of reform to be debated and passed in the House of Assembly “before the end of July 2019”.

Mr Sanderson said: “It’s understandable that there’s anxiety about it. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that just by being born here, you should get status.

“Everybody accepts that’s not enough. It seems accepted that you should be here for a significant time before becoming eligible.

“But these are people who are already here and have been here for a long time, so you’re not going to see a massive change in how Bermuda looks.”

Mr Sanderson highlighted that “there was a pathway in place for children brought up here, until 2008 — up until 11 years ago, anybody born in Bermuda could apply for status once they turned 18”.

He said: “It’s only in the past decade that we have not had a pathway to status for people born and brought up here. This is not the norm for Bermuda — it’s a problem that has been allowed to develop.”

Mr Sanderson added that the section that allowed status in Bermuda’s immigration laws expired at the end of July 2008 and that “successive governments did nothing to fix it”.

He said: “It seems people have forgotten that — a lot of people got status that way.”

Mr Caines has not yet specified what sections of immigration law would be changed first.

Mr Sanderson said: “Kids born or brought up here is an obvious one. The other would be adults who have been here for more than a certain number of years.

“By allowing the process to stall, it has put the courts in the unhappy position of having to enforce minimum constitutional standards.

“If the Government neglects that area, they end up losing control of the process. The best way for the Government to maintain control is to put forward workable reforms.”

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Published Feb 12, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 12, 2019 at 6:17 am)

Belongers a ‘tiny fraction’ of athletes

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