Lawyer slams treatment of Jamaicans in Turks after teacher returns

Lawyer slams treatment of Jamaicans in Turks after teacher returns

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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The Jamaican teacher who was accused of child abuse in Turks and Caicos Islands returned to Jamaica yesterday after she was deported.

But Gillian Mullings, the attorney for the accused, Suzette Codling, is criticising how immigrants are treated on the small Caribbean island.

The practice, Mullings revealed, is that if immigrants are poorly treated by employers and report it, they are deported to their homeland without the matter being heard by a tribunal.

"It seems to me anybody can bring a worker here, tell them certain things and do what they want to do with them. I understand that this is commonplace among the Haitian community, and that they have a really hard time here because you can get rid of the suit by calling immigration. I mean, we even have cases of immigration taking away people and raping them in the detention centre and getting away with it," the attorney told the Jamaica Observer.

"I understand that even if you’re in a classroom situation and you tell a student to do something and they don’t like it, they’ll tell you to your face that, ‘I’m gonna call immigration on you.’ So it is almost like you can use immigration here to do what you want with people," she added.

"I think it is something that has to be sorted out, perhaps internationally, outside of Turks and Caicos, but I understand that people don’t even want to bring these cases to trial. And then it’s hard to even bring a case to trial when you can just deport the problem. All you have to do is call immigration on the person and that’s the end of it," Mullings noted.

She reasoned that this practice begets the building of a society which frowns upon ‘whistle-blowing’. The attorney then expressed concern that this practice becomes an "ideal situation" for people to "commit ingenious acts".

"Think about it, you’re working somewhere as a maid and you do somebody something ... they call immigration, immigration comes and detains you. You can do what you want to these people. They don’t have any rights," she hypothesised.

"People need to be aware of what is happening before they get here; they need to be aware of their rights," she added, noting that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association may need to inform its members of the situation.

Lamenting the circumstances which befell her client, Mullings called for a "frank discussion" within the Caribbean Community to address the matter.

"It is not only Jamaicans who are here [going through this]. We understand that there is a Guyanese woman who was working and was beaten, bad word cuss after her and they could do what they wanted with her. It’s almost like they could wipe their feet on her if they wanted and then when she tried to speak up, they said, ‘We are going to call immigration on you,’" Mullings related, outlining that of the 35,000 people on the island, 9,000 were Turks and Caicos islanders.

The Suzette Codling case

Last week The Turks and Caicos Sun— one of the island’s newspapers — reported that Jamaican teacher Suzette Codling, who was working with a private preschool in Providenciales for one year, was verbally and physically abusing her students. The newspaper also reported that Codling was being sought by the Immigration Task Force for deportation, in light of what they deemed a refusal to leave the island.

The article, headlined "Jamaican teacher wanted by Turks and Caicos Islands Immigration Task Force", outlined that Codling was working though her work permit had expired and was cancelled by the Immigration Department.

It also outlined that in a meeting with management of the preschool the teacher never denied the abuse allegations. The matter, according to the story, was reported to the Labour Department, which in turn met with Codling and the employer and "advised them about the terms and conditions under which she must be compensated".

But Mullings found the circumstances surrounding this meeting to be unfair.

"I’ve never actually seen this before, and one of the strangest things that happened is one of the labour hearings took place in a hotel owned by the people who had employed her, it’s their hotel, after 6 o’clock in the evening, after the offices of the labour department were closed," Mullings told the Sunday Observer.

"How can you possibly be convening a meeting like that? Not to mention there was nothing like a letter stating the charges ever being issued to this lady, so you know due process just went out the door; because you don’t even know what you coming there to face. She actually just came to the hotel and just see the labour man just sit down there," she continued.

"They don’t give her a letter and say, ‘this is the hearing, you are entitled to representation and legal advice’, nothing like that, and they present paperwork and tell her you need to sign this paperwork. To this day she don’t know what it says. They are saying that the paperwork is an admission that she abused the children. And it’s presented by the labour tribunal man who is supposed to be an independent party."

The article reports that, on the advice of the Labour Department, "Ms Codling was paid all monies due to her and given a return ticket back to Jamaica, in accordance with the law." It further alleged that Codling changed the ticket to an open ticket and did not leave on the scheduled date.

It went further: "It is understood that over the past two weeks, Ms Codling has been actively seeking employment in the Turks and Caicos Islands, although she has no legal status. In fact, she is now reportedly working split shifts at two private schools. When the Immigration Task Force went to her last known place of abode, they discovered that Ms Codling had moved. She apparently also changed her phone number. Immigration officials also went to one of the private schools where she was said to be working, but they were told that she was not there."

But Mullings again denied such claims and explained that when Codling went to the labour tribunal, she was told that a hearing was set for April 30.

"Now, the procedure in the Turks and Caicos is that when you have a labour dispute, you should not be deported until it is settled before the Tribunal, but nevertheless, somehow they managed to get the Immigration Department to lock up Ms Codling, and it seems on the basis of statements that were made saying that she was working illegally. The lady wasn’t working illegally. And that she had been hiding, and she wasn’t at her house, and she had changed her number and, of course, Ms Codling hadn’t done any of those things. So they locked her in the cell and were forcing her to go home before the case was determined," Mullings said.

The Sun also reported that "the behaviour and tactics exhibited by Ms Codling have become commonplace among Jamaican teachers and other employees in other sectors, and that it is seriously undermining and destroying local business."

In another article with a statement from the employer,
The Sun reported that Codling was working to "sour relations between Jamaica and Turks and Caicos Islands".

"It’s most unfortunate that someone who we welcomed with open arms into our country, our homes, our churches and our hearts, and with whom we took a leap of faith to deal with our young children, has now flouted the laws of our country, betrayed the trust that was reposed in her and violated our principles in such a way that was absolutely not in the best interest of our pre-school, our children and our country. The safety, well-being and development of the children in our care are our top priorities and we will not comprise these for anyone or anything," the article titled "Jamaican teacher trying to use work permit non-renewal to strain Jamaica/Turks and Caicos Islands" said.

It continued: "It is quite sad that Suzette has embarked on what is clearly an evil and wicked crusade of seeking sympathy and spreading vicious lies, aimed at what can best be described as a sick and feeble attempt to strain relations between Jamaica and Turks and Caicos Islands."

It was later discovered that the head of the daycare is the wife of the editor of
The Sun. The wife is also named as part of the media organisation, as vice president of corporate affairs.

Mullings expressed disappointment in the articles and said they lacked objectiveness.

"There is certainly an issue with a gentleman who publishes an article with a professional woman who pretends to do it as a neutral observer and a journalist, but doesn’t qualify the fact that he’s personally involved in this matter, and that the woman he is publishing the article on is his own wife. The woman who owns the place, who is the employer, is his own wife and he doesn’t qualify it. He doesn’t qualify the story and it is circulating on his website worldwide. It is almost as if they’re asserting their power. They’re saying that not only can we do this, we’re gonna go hard, you know, wrong and strong," she told the
Sunday Observer.

However, husband of the former employer and president, publisher and Editor-in-chief of
The Sun, Hayden Boyce, believes the articles published were fair and relevant representations of the information surrounding the story.

Responding to an e-mail that questioned the relevance of mentioning in the second article that the bishop who bailed Codling was a "cleric who gained notoriety by denying allegations that he was the person featured in a sex video which went viral locally and internationally last year", Barbadian Boyce said: "It is extremely relevant and particularly important. Do your research. There is much to this story than meets the eye and/or that you will ever understand."

Mullings told the Sunday Observer that the minister "came to her defence and was able to get her out of the lock-up on the basis that she would go home on Saturday (yesterday)".

When asked whether the article spoke objectively and fairly, Boyce
said "definitely".

What next?

Mullings revealed that she intends to file a suit in relation to the articles published, reasoning that the paper published an article claiming she was at large after she was taken into custody.

"Now you have to understand that this is not a big place. So if immigration is said to be searching for someone on a tiny island, it’s kind of a ridiculous statement to make in the press," the attorney stated.

The defence lawyer indicated that she also intends to file a class action suit.

"What we are trying to do now is see if we can get all the teachers do one class action case. We certainly have to raise the matter with Caricom and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and if necessary, we also have to touch the international authorities," Mullings revealed.

"We no longer know what’s going to happen because if Ms Codling stays here, any day them feel like, them call immigration and them lock her up. And although the Immigration Department is supposed to allow her to stay until her case is heard, they can continue to come and lock her up over and over again," she said.

"So I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work, but if you have a situation with all of these people working under this kind of pressure and oppression, even if you can get away with not paying them and abusing them and sending them off to detention where they can be raped, even if you can get away with it, it’s a matter of time before that kind of pressure just bursts on you, and it will. Jamaica alone and the amount of slavery bills we had, show that it’s just not effective. You can try your best to oppress people using the legal system; they will break at some point and then you will be sorry," she warned.

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