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Human Rights Commission issues warning over vitriol

The Human Rights Commission last night warned that the row over permanent residents and status should not be allowed to degenerate into hate speech.

And HRC chairman Michael Hanson said that “hateful, vexatious and/or harmful words” about people's national origin — whether Bermudian or from overseas — could breach the Island's Human Rights Act.

Mr Hanson said that the rights of Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) holders — particularly their employment rights — had been raised several times over the last few weeks by politicians, spokesmen and members of the public.

He added: “We have grown concerned at the increasing amount of general anger in our community and specific anger directed at politicians, Bermudians, PRC holders and others who comment or are involved in the current debates.”

Mr Hanson added that there was confusion over the terms of the Human Rights Act and its scope.

He added that the Act overruled statutes and policies, unless specifically stated otherwise, which included immigration policy.

Mr Hanson said that the Act outlawed discrimination by employers on the basis of origin.

And he added: “The Act creates no hierarchy for hiring Bermudians over non-Bermudians.

“This would be, in other circumstances, a breach of the Act save that employers may choose, if they wish, to hire a Bermudian over a non-Bermudian when hiring new employees.”

Mr Hanson explained that — in terms of jobs — the Human Rights did not mandate preferential hiring of Bermudians over others — for example, PRC holders or spouses of Bermudians.

He added: “Indeed, if an employer chooses to exercise this exemption and selects a Bermudian for employment over a PRC holder purely on the grounds of a PRC holder's national origin, advice from an attorney should be sought as other Bermuda laws may have an impact on such a choice and whether it is lawful.

“Any tribunal formed under the Act to adjudicate over a complaint on these grounds would have to consider a large range of issues.”

Mr Hanson said that those involved in the debate should understand the legal position under the Human Rights Act to ensure it is “fruitful and beneficial to all”.

He added: “There are clearly polarised positions in respect of whether PRC holders, who have been here since 1989, should be granted Bermudian status.

“It is not appropriate for us as Commissioners to comment on this specifically one way or the other — save to say that we, as Commissioners, are guided by a statutory mandate to uphold the Act and support all people's human rights as stipulated in the Act.

“Our role is relatively straightforward in this regard, as we have no mandate to consider the impact to Bermuda in terms of politics or the economy — save where there is an impact on human rights.”

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley in May upheld a decision by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal that two PRC holders could have full status.

The Opposition PLP later introduced legislation to close the loophole — which was blocked by the ruling OBA on the grounds it was “premature”.

MPs were told that Government had engaged a QC to look at the ruling and that there could be an appeal against the decision to the Privy Council.

And the House of Assembly was told that all current applications for status under the legal ruling had been put on hold pending clarification of the law.

Michael Hanson

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Published July 11, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 11, 2014 at 9:45 am)

Human Rights Commission issues warning over vitriol

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