Balancing Freedom, Rights & Responsibility

Caribupdate

Caribupdate Weekly

The challenges of this world differ by degree, rather than kind, from country to country. Every country — big and small — has pockets of poverty, faces growing for better services in health and education, and walks a tight rope between tradition and modernity, and with the balancing of freedom, rights and responsibility.

Some of these considerations came to mind in the maelstrom of the tragic shooting death of Corporal of Police, Daniel Edgar.

For one, the incident provoked discussion on how we, as a country, should deal with guns in the hands of civilians; whether we should offer an amnesty to try and have illegal firearms turned over to the police, without the fear of punishment; and whether tighter gun laws are required. But, as some have rightly pointed out, a greater percentage of killing and maiming in Grenada is done with the use of a cutlass. It, therefore, begs the question of how we should treat with the cutlass or machete, which is a popular traditional farming instrument.

The reporting of the incident involving Corporal Edgar also has shone a spotlight on our infant media landscape, both traditional and emerging media with the so-called “citizen journalists’’; meaning, anyone with a cellphone or other recording device, and who is willing and able to share information with the rest of the world.

The more advanced countries of the world are way ahead of Third World nations like Grenada in their understanding and in arriving at generally accepted conventions for media, and in their response to new media and the “citizen journalist’’. In some cases, courts have set precedence in their rulings on items posted on social media.

Take the example of a Canadian teacher who, just last week, was awarded CAD$67,500 in damages after comments were posted on the Facebook page of one of his neighbours that suggested that the teacher was a pedophile.

The judge, in his ruling, said the poster’s “thoughtless, reckless actions’’ caused the teacher to suffer “serious damage to his reputation’’.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Corporal Edgar, police requested that his name not be disclosed to the public, until they are able to inform his next of kin. But, in the wild, wild west of media in Grenada, where there is little or no adherence to any known and established convention, the police request fell on deaf ears and the officer’s name was posted all over social media. This, to say the least, was unfortunate.

It was unfortunate, too, when one television newscast reported that: “The death of Corporal Edgar brings the number of police officers dying so far for 2016 to more than five’’. With no qualification to the statement, and with what was read before and after the statement, a listener is left with the impression that Grenada has had more than five cops losing their lives in violent incidents since the start of the year. And that is not true, at all.

While we point out these teetering issues of freedom, rights and responsibility, we are not daunted. We are comforted by the fact that Grenada is a young, developing nation; and local media are still a fledgling profession that must experience growing pains, as media have done — and still are experiencing — in larger, older democracies of the world.

Lest we are accused of only picking on our colleagues in the media, Caribupdate Weekly also would like to comment on Magistrate Jerry Seales and his courtroom behaviour. There have been enough reports and complaints, even from Grenada Bar Association president Ruggles Ferguson, to at least warrant a public debate about the conduct of Magistrate Seales. If any other Grenadian, in any other high position in society, was alleged to be doing the things Seales is accused of doing, we are certain there would have been a ruckus.

Seales was appointed a magistrate to administer justice, fairly; not to showboat by ordering, for instance, a naturalized citizen to be confined to Richmond Hill Prisons because he made a mistake in telling the magistrate the day of Grenada’s independence; and not for making impossible demands of $1500 and $2000 in immediate payment fines from bus operators, and then jailing them for non-payment. Magistrate Seales is even known for stepping out of bounds and happening upon an incident on the road, and ordering a police officer to arrest the civilian involved in the matter. Seales has no authority to order an arrest on the street.

We know that Seales has his defenders. But this is not a popularity contest about how many supporters and defenders he has. This is about justice; and it’s about allegations of abuse of power, too. Where are the voices of the well-known vocal activists for justice in politics, the legal profession and the NGO community? Magistrate Seales is an administrator of justice and the law; he’s not above the law; he’s not an emperor.

The least that can be done is conduct a judicial review of his performance to clear the air of the repeated allegations and complaints that are leveled against Magistrate Seales.

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