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Challenges at start and finish, says departing Governor

John Rankin sits down with The Royal Gazette for the final time as Governor of Bermuda (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Challenging times have bookended the Governor’s term in Bermuda, he admitted this week.

But John Rankin said he would leave the island with memories of a strong community spirit, beautiful scenery and good friends.

Mr Rankin started his tenure days after the December 2016 demonstration where police used pepper spray on protesters outside of the House of Assembly who were demonstrating against a public private partnership deal to build a new airport.

Mr Rankin will leave tomorrow as the island continued its battle against the global Covid-19 pandemic.

He said this week: “I arrived at a challenging time and I leave the island at a perhaps even more challenging time.

“I came two days after the events outside the Parliament building and was well briefed on them by Ginny Ferson, who was the Acting Governor at that point.

“I was keenly aware that it had not been a good day, for all involved, in Bermuda.”

Mr Rankin said that he was quick to order a review of the police service’s actions.

He added: “I think there were many lessons to be learned from that day by all involved.

“My responsibility specifically is for the police and I believe we took the right action to make sure that, as far as policing was concerned, we learned the necessary lessons from that day.”

Mr Rankin highlighted that the coronavirus pandemic showed that Bermuda was not “immune from what happens internationally”.

He added: “We, like everyone else, have had to learn how to respond to the threat.”

Mr Rankin said he was pleased that the UK was able to supply personal protective equipment and PCR test kits valued at about $1.7 million, as well as two repatriation flights from Britain.

He added: “The UK played a key role in getting that intensive testing up.

“I salute the works being carried out by the team led by Carika Weldon and the team at the hospital and health workers who have worked through this process, together with Regiment and police helping to keep us safe.”

The Governor said the assistance from Britain was "a very good example of … the UK’s commitment to Bermuda“ and that similar help was given to other Overseas Territories.

Mr Rankin, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, said he was “very proud” of the organisation, which became volunteer-based after conscription ended in 2018.

He said: “There was a fear at the end of conscription that, somehow or another, that would lead to a diminution of the Regiment.

“I think, to the contrary, the Regiment has grown in a number of ways.

“First of all we have a healthy number of recruits still coming in to the Regiment.

“Secondly, in response to Hurricane Humberto last year, Hurricane Paulette earlier this year and particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic … I think the Regiment has proved its worth.”

Mr Rankin said that "well trained men and women“ were a key resource for the island.

The Governor also highlighted his pride in the RBR and the police service when they responded to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in other Overseas Territories in 2017.

Mr Rankin said that his role as the signatory of legislation was to think about how laws fitted in with the UK’s international obligations as well as the Constitution.

He highlighted the Royal Assent for the Domestic Partnership Act, which was open to same-sex couples, in February 2018, 56 days after it passed in the Senate.

Mr Rankin said: “From a personal point of view, I do not believe that we should discriminate against individuals on grounds of their sexual orientation, but my job as Governor was to consider whether the legislation was compatible with the UK’s international obligations and was compatible with the Constitution.

“I took the view, after very careful consideration, that the European Convention on Human Rights does require some form of civil partnership to be recognised in a jurisdiction but doesn’t, as yet, require same sex marriage to be recognised by countries.

“Therefore, I took the view that the legislation passed by Parliament was not in conflict with UK’s international obligations.

“I also took the view at the time that there was no conflict with the Constitution but, of course, that is precisely the point which has now been challenged in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal and which will go to the Privy Council in the new year for final determination.”

A memorable moment for Mr Rankin was when he granted a posthumous pardon to the Reverend Charles Vinton Monk in July 2019.

Mr Monk was imprisoned for libel in 1903 after he exposed poor conditions endured by people brought to the island to work on the Royal Naval Dockyard.

David Burt, the Premier, told the House of Assembly in June 2018 that he had asked the Governor to consult the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy about the possibility of a pardon for the pastor and journalist.

Mr Rankin said: “Posthumous pardons in the UK are extremely rare and there had never previously been a posthumous pardon in a UK Overseas Territory.”

He added: “After very careful consideration, and also consultation with London, I decided to exercise my power under the Constitution to grant that pardon.”

Mr Rankin added: “I believe it was the right thing to do and I was very pleased we got that result.”

The Governor said he was “very impressed" at how voluntary organisations operated, as well as the island’s community spirit.

He added his first glimpse was at the Ag Show, when 17,000 people attended.

Mr Rankin said: “That sort of community spirit and community involvement I think, in quite a lot of other countries, has been lost but still exists here.”

Mr Rankin said he hoped that people would support his successor, Rena Lalgie, and that the island “can play its part” in global efforts to tackle climate change.

He added: “My thanks to everybody in Bermuda for their friendship. I have made good friends here and people have been very kind and supportive to me.

“I shall miss this beautiful island.”

He said: “Every so often I pinch myself and think, what a gorgeous, blessed place this is in terms of its physical beauty.

“I will miss that community spirit and I will miss the fact that there is so much going on in this very small place.”

Mr Rankin added that “it’s never dull being the Governor of Bermuda”.