Pepper-sprayed protester compensated

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — A protester hit by pepper spray used by police during a protest over a new airport terminal almost three years ago has received US$48,000 in compensation, former Premier Michael Dunkley has said.

He told Parliament that the unidentified person was among 28 settlements made in money drawn from the Royal Bermuda Regiment's contingency fund.

Dunkley, served as premier at the time of the demonstration over the new airport terminal, which is due to open next year, told legislators a “concerned Bermudian” received the figure in response to a public access to information (PATI) request.

He spoke as members debated a report produced by the parliamentary joint select committee (JSC) after it carried out an inquiry into the clash on December 2, 2016 between police and demonstrators, who blockaded the entrance to the House, when several protesters were pepper-sprayed by officers.

The Ministry of National Security said earlier this year that an undisclosed settlement had been agreed with complainants who were seeking legal action against the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).

Dunkley told Parliament Friday night the PATI response showed 28 payments were made on February 12 and that the requester asked about the value of each pay-out and the information showed 27 were for US$4,200 and one was for US$48,000.

Another question was about “which government department and budget head” the funds were taken from and Dunkley said “the answer was, the funds were paid from the contingency fund of department number six — the Bermuda Regiment.

“Money is taken from the Bermuda Regiment to pay out protesters,” he added.

A statement on the payments from National Security Minister Wayne Caines was postponed at the request of Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, in February because the JSC had, at that point, still to deliver its findings.

The report was tabled by Kim Swan, a ruling Progressive Labour Party backbencher and chairman of the committee, earlier this month.

The report said protesters were pepper-sprayed as police mounted an unsuccessful bid to clear the gates. Several officers were also injured in the clash.

The JSC held about 40 meetings behind closed doors and the report criticised the PCA's investigation. Its report contradicted the PCA's view that officers had acted on their own initiative when they used pepper spray.

Governor John Rankin has sidestepped media questions on the report.

He said he had “carefully” read the report into the incident by the JSC, adding: “I hope that all can work together in considering thoughtfully and constructively the contents of the report.”

However, Rankin declined to comment further on the report or on a rebuttal by Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley of the JSC's finding that officers were ordered to use pepper spray on the protesters.

“This was a sad day for Bermuda on which no one won. There were lessons to be learnt from all sides on what occurred,: Rankin added.

Aecon is the prime contractor on the airport project under a 30-year public-private partnership involving the Bermuda government and the Canadian Commercial Corporation.

The deal was struck in 2014 by the former OBA government. But building on the new US$302 million terminal did not begin until April 2017 after a number of delays, including the protest outside Parliament.


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