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Burt maintains truth about December 2 ‘yet to be told’

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David Burt on December 2, 2016 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

David Burt said yesterday that nothing could “erase the memory” of the December 2, 2016 clash outside Parliament and "what was done to peaceful protesters“.

The Premier issued a statement to The Royal Gazette in response to questions for our coverage of the fifth anniversary of the event.

He said: “A contrived milestone is not required to cast my thoughts to the still-shocking images of citizens exercising a right to peacefully protest being violently attacked by police and pepper sprayed.

“Five years later, I maintain that the truth of that day’s events is yet to be told.”

The demonstration stopped MPs from getting into the House of Assembly to debate two pieces of legislation about a controversial airport deal.

Some protesters were pepper-sprayed by police and 28 people later received a settlement totalling $225,000 – including their legal fees – from the Ministry of National Security.

Mr Burt referred to the One Bermuda Alliance’s decision after December 2 to make public the airport draft project agreement before the Bills went back before the House – where they were ultimately approved – on February 10, 2017.

He said: “It is a fact that on December 2, 2016, the OBA government was determined to have the House of Assembly rubber-stamp a deal which no one had seen and, but for the sacrifice of those men and women who risked their personal safety on that front line, we would never have known just how bad the deal really was.

“The sums paid to those persons injured on that day pale in comparison to the tens of millions of dollars paid to [airport developer] Aecon thanks to the OBA’s reckless agreement, made more to benefit a Canadian company than the people of Bermuda.”

The Premier added: “Make no mistake, that day is a definitive one in the history of Bermuda because the people gave voice to their concern and that voice could not be ignored.”

The Gazette asked Mr Burt to outline what efforts he and his government had made since July 19, 2019 to uncover what he called in Parliament that day an “elaborate cover-up” about the protest.

A protester after being pepper sprayed on December 2, 2016 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

We asked which individuals he thought were responsible for the pepper spraying and what he thought should happen to them, as well as whether he accepted any responsibility, as one of the protest organisers, for people getting hurt.

He told the Gazette soon after the incident, when he was Opposition leader: “The only persons to blame for what took place are the officials who ordered armed riot police to engage peaceful protesters who were assembled.”

Finally, the Premier was asked to comment on newly released Pati correspondence showing that he told the national security minister and the Attorney-General to bring about a "definitive resolution" to the lawsuit brought by protesters. [see separate story]

His statement was released in response to The Royal Gazette’s questions.

Former premier Michael Dunkley (File photograph)

Michael Dunkley, who was Premier five years ago, said yesterday: “In the heat of the moment, the police made questionable calls that, in hindsight, proved to be the wrong calls.

“No one ordered the police to do that. They made that decision themselves and it was the stupidest move out there.”

The OBA politician said the Progressive Labour Party used a “ploy of civil disobedience” when in Opposition and “once one was successful, they just continued on”.

He said it was wrong for people in positions of responsibility, such as MPs, to use that approach.

“They illegally blocked Parliament and no one was held accountable. What really bothers me about the whole incident of December 2 is that people were put in harm’s way.”

He called on the Government to reveal exactly who benefited from the settlement.

And he described Mr Burt’s claims of a cover-up as “political hot air”.

He said the parliamentary committee which investigated the protest was “looking for a scapegoat and they were aiming at me. They came up empty-handed.”

Mr Dunkley added: “It ended with perfunctory conclusions that didn’t amount to anything.

“The joint select committee never interviewed David Burt. If he was so intent to get to the bottom of it, he would have gone in there to allow them to question him.”