PLP Government’s settlement with protesters a betrayal – Looby
The single protester who refused to accept a confidential government payout to people pepper sprayed outside Parliament five years ago today still wants his day in court.
Craig Looby insists police used excessive force during a clash with demonstrators blocking the gates of Parliament that day.
“I got sprayed directly to the eyes,” Mr Looby told The Royal Gazette.
“The police tried to rush in on us. I was shouting, ʽwhat are you doing? Can’t you see all these old people?’
“Then I was getting sprayed in the face.”
After that, he said: “All hell broke loose.”
Five years on, Mr Looby sees the PLP Government’s settlement with protesters as a betrayal.
He pointed out that almost all the 28 payoffs, which became public in February 2019, were “small” – 27 of them were for $4,200 each.
One standout payment, for $48,000, is understood by the Gazette to have gone to a protester injured in the scuffle as police attempted to pry demonstrators off the gates to Sessions House.
Mr Looby insists the group, who had been seeking legal action against the Police Complaints Authority for its investigation of the day’s events, was pressured into settling after the Progressive Labour Party regained power.
“Everyone who settled signed a non-disclosure agreement,” he said. “Nobody else is going to talk to you.”
Mr Looby maintained his belief that the Bermuda Industrial Union, whose president Chris Furbert was a prominent member of the pressure group that brought people out in protest that day, could have been exposed to liability over the people hurt.
Mr Furbert had called on people to protest in his capacity as one of the leaders of the People’s Campaign.
Along with the PLP, the People’s Campaign was bitterly opposed to the One Bermuda Alliance Government’s deal to build a new airport terminal for the island.
The union leader was among panellists at a People’s Campaign meeting on the night of December 1 in which members of the public were urged to demonstrate as MPs headed to Parliament in the morning to debate the airport legislation.
Although Mr Furbert never spoke in any union capacity, Mr Looby insists there were fears the BIU could have been put in legal danger.
“The BIU isn’t supposed to do any type of protesting for issues that are non-labour,” he said.
Had the union been found responsible for putting members in harm’s way, Mr Looby believes “they could have been on the hook financially” over the mêlée with police.
He maintains that protesters were told they had a strong case, until the OBA lost the General Election in 2017 and the PLP regained power.
“A deal was cut, and the reason I didn’t sign is I wanted this to go to court.”
Efforts last month to reach Mr Furbert in response to Mr Looby’s claims were unsuccessful.
Mr Looby’s opposition to the airport deal dates back to his role as the head of the construction firm Urban Maximum Industries Inc.
Even though the OBA’s deal with Canadian Commercial Corporation was sole-sourced and thus exclusive to CCC, Mr Looby said he pitched to the Canadian crown body to be taken on as contractor and claims he was unfairly passed over for Aecon.
On December 2, Mr Looby was “roaming” among demonstrators, observing the protest.
He was considering leaving until he saw “police rolling up in riot gear” shortly after 1pm.
He said most of the day had been little different from the protests against the OBA’s Pathways to Status plans that March, the first occasion Parliament was blockaded.
“In fact, that was more extreme. They actually put up a chain for Pathways. Police didn’t do anything.”
On December 2, Mr Looby said he went to the southern gates to the grounds of Parliament to warn protesters and ended up standing with the group when police moved in to dislodge them.
He said there was “jostling and struggling”, followed by pepper spray and chaos before officers called off the attempt.
He joined the group of protesters who pushed for police to be held accountable, after the independent Police Complaints Authority ruled in August 2017 that no general order had been given for the use of Captor spray.
The PCA said officers used the pepper spray in accordance with use of force policy, in “the belief that they were protecting themselves or a colleague”.
Mr Looby vehemently disagrees.
“In the UK, under these same circumstances where police do this, courts ruled in favour of protesters who got roughed up by police.”
He added: “When the situation first started, the BIU collected everybody attacked that day to fight the system and challenge the PCA.
“We were told we had a case and we were going to win.
“When government changed hands, the whole scenario changed. It was a weak case. We’re not going to get anything. Come to the table and get a settlement.”
Mr Looby said he lacked the financial means to fight on his own and his requests for legal aid had fallen on deaf ears.
But he insists on his constitutional right for his case to be heard.
“You’re dealing with a situation where the system abused its power,” Mr Looby said of December 2.
“If somebody from the public did what happened on December 2, there would have been a whole different process.”