Chuck under fire

Chuck under fire

Minister says it was not his intention to appear as lacking empathy on sexual harassment

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, June 27, 2020

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JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck yesterday drew harsh criticism from the public following comments he made while agreeing with a recommendation that a one-year cap be instituted on the period for reporting sexual harassment incidents.

While speaking at a joint select committee meeting at Gordon House on Thursday, where the sexual harassment Bill was being examined, Chuck indicated that victims of sexual harassment either report the matter within the one-year time frame or forget about the matter.

“We don't want the situation that now happens in the 'Me Too' movement in the US where 30 years later you talk about 'I was harassed in the elevator', ” the minister said, while chuckling. “No, if you don't complain within 12 months, please, cut it out.”

Chuck further stated that he would not want to find himself in a position where a person after several years comes forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.

“What about the alleged offender who has to defend him or herself? Suppose someone looking on the TV now and say, 'But look at Mr Chuck, when him used to teach him used to make pass at me.' I wouldn't even remember if I did,” the laughing minister said.

The recommendation for a one-year cap on the period for reporting incidents was made by Danny Roberts, trade unionist and labour relations expert, during his presentation to the committee.

Yesterday some social media users called for Chuck to be sacked, arguing that the comments and manner in which they were delivered are unacceptable from the country's justice minister.

“If this happened anywhere else in the civilised world the minister would step down, but in Jamaica it's business as usual. Perhaps you are out of touch,” one social media user, Aiesha Nya stated.

Another user under the moniker 'Black Lives Matter' simply said: “Resign.”

A third person suggested that although Chuck's defenders were arguing that his comments were taken out of context, the minister's response to the recommendation and objections to it were typical.

“As someone who has been a part of the committee presentations from start to finish and have watched them from start to finish, the 'out of context' comments are in line with the minister's previous behaviour towards the subject matter,” the user said.

Lara George, another user, sought the input of Prime Minister Andrew Holness on the matter.

“Hi @AndrewHolnessJM, will @Delroychuckjm be resigning over his outrageous comments or is this mindset acceptable by you and your Government,” the user questioned.

However, in responding, Chuck said, “If persons interpret my joviality as a lack of empathy, it was not meant and never intended to undermine the severity of the matter at hand. I do appreciate that sexual harassment is a serious and traumatic subject.

“As minister of justice, I do take my role seriously to ensure lawmakers give the issues their full attention and consideration,” he said.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte also came to the minister's defence, telling him that he should not “stress” about the matter.

“I have observed [a] particular line of attack by a group. They take expressions made during presentations out of context. One member orchestrates the criticism and then the other members pick it up and repeat it several times. You have to see their approach to understand,” the attorney general said.

She has since deleted the post from her Twitter page.

Government Senator Dr Sapphire Longmore had raised concerns about the proposed one-year cap during the committee meeting, noting that a time frame cannot be placed on trauma and when a victim's symptoms may evolve.

“Some persons are so traumatised that they repress or suppress. You have to recognise, too, that they maybe in a work environment where they know that their financial future may be dependent on what they do now, and they have all sorts of responsibilities tied to this financial future,” the psychiatrist argued.

She said also that while there might be a timeline on finalising the Bill, those examining it must seek to be thorough in coming up with a comprehensive one.

She said, for example, in some instances evidence could still exist for a particular case, bolstering her point that there should not be a cap.

She received support from Opposition Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns, who said one year was too short a time, and Member of Parliament Horace Dalley who recommended a two-year cap.

However, representatives from the Ministry of Gender, in responding, noted that the matter was more of a civil one, explaining that sexual harassment is not a criminal offence but one that attaches civil liability.

“...A compromise could be that even if a complainant, as it were, runs out of time – even if you extend the time to two years, three years – there has to be a time limit. So even if the complainant runs out of time, maybe that person, given what Senator Longmore said about the psychological impact, could have access to counselling. So once you have been a victim of sexual harassment [and] unfortunately you have run out of time to bring your complaint to the tribunal, you could still access counselling to help take you through the trauma that you experienced,” legal officer in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Georgette Grant said.

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