Minister under fire for ‘negative attitude’
The denial of a work permit for the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, a pastor with a history of outspoken views against the One Bermuda Alliance, was influenced by a “visceral negative attitude” on the part of the minister, the Supreme Court heard.
However, defence counsel said that the Bermuda Government's duty of fairness had been carried out — and that the complaint that home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin should not have been involved only emerged at a “suspiciously convenient” late juncture in the controversy.
The non-renewal of Mr Tweed's permit sparked demonstrations last year: the pastor, also a leading figure in the activist group the People's Campaign, had his renewal turned down on October 21, with a subsequent decision on December 28 not to allow an appeal.
Delroy Duncan, representing Mr Tweed and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, told Chief Justice Ian Kawaley that the minister should have withdrawn herself from the matter from the start, noting her earlier statements in the House of Assembly on Mr Tweed's regular sermons, criticising the integrity of the Government.
Ms Gordon-Pamplin, who had attended St Paul AME for decades, had earlier stated in Parliament that she had gone elsewhere to worship after Mr Tweed used his pulpit to repeatedly denounce the OBA, which she defended as “my Government”.
Mr Duncan told the court that Ms Gordon-Pamplin appeared to have made her mind up on Mr Tweed's permit renewal as early as July 29, ten days after his permit expired, when she insisted that his position had to be advertised.
Pastors are appointed by the bishop in charge of Bermuda's AME division and by tradition the role is not advertised — but a new policy was adopted in 2014.
However, while Ms Gordon-Pamplin maintained in public statements that the same rules had to apply for all, Mr Duncan said that a public access to information request had shown that during the time since the policy had come into play, 22 exceptions had been made, five of them for parsons.
Mr Duncan drew attention to Ms Gordon-Pamplin granting Mr Tweed a continuance to conduct a funeral, but telling Dawnette Ming that she was “not minded to leave an open-ended continuance”, and that the Government had been treated with “contempt” in the applications.
“We contend that the minister could never, from this point onward, let the application proceed fairly, with such overt political bias,” Mr Duncan told the court.
Records showed a “disjoined narrative” between the minister and Dawnette Ming, the Chief Immigration Officer, with Marc Telemaque, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of National Security, representing the church.
Mr Duncan argued that the minister had “trawled” Mr Tweed's immigration files in an effort to impose “information hurdles” on his application.
The minister had repeatedly stated that the information filed was incomplete, including details on Mr Tweed's marital status as well as his surname.
The court heard that Mr Tweed has “only known one father, Dr Kingsley Tweed, who is Bermudian” and lived as a common-law husband with Mr Tweed's mother from the time he was two years old.
Ultimately the application was turned down because the position was not advertised, and a waiver for advertising not requested on time, but Mr Duncan said that argument was “demonstrably false — it's a show”.
The minister had also spoken with members of the community who had argued that a Bermudian candidate might be suitable for the “prize” of the St Paul pulpit, Mr Duncan said, calling them “very serious concerns”.
Several times, Mr Justice Kawaley called the operation of immigration, in which the minister gets final say, “strange” — noting that no formal protocol had evolved to protect ministers from having their impartiality questioned.
Yesterday marked the opening day of the judicial review of the case, with Mr Tweed and supporters packing the courtroom. The case continues today.
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