Senate approves Anti-Gang amendments, despite the noiseSaturday, June 19, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Senate finally passed the widely anticipated Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) (Amendment) Act, 2021”, or Anti-Gang Bill yesterday, after more than three hours of noisy debating.
The Senate had delayed completing the debate from June 11 until yesterday, to facilitate members who were absent or needed more time to digest the recommendations for the legislation, which has become key to police efforts to disrupt and suppress criminal gangs.
However, the debate descended into a noisy exchange over support for songs and artistes using violence lyrics, and whether the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Prime Minister Andrew Holness also used these artistes and their music in their election campaigning.
However, the tension was reduced at the end of the prolonged engagement, with both sides of the Senate fully supporting the amendments to the Bill.
The noise started after Government member, Senator Charles Sinclair, demanded an apology from Opposition member, Senator Damion Crawford, for calling him a “liar” in a social media posting, following his contribution to the debate on June 11.
Senator Sinclair accused Senator Crawford of posting that he was lying last week when he suggested that despite being the Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment in 2014 when the Act was approved, he did not speak to the issue of whether he supported or opposed the removal of Clause 15 of the original Bill which raised questions about violence lyrics and the threat of the “Informa Fi Dead” culture to police investigations.
Co-incidentally, it was stated that the two then Opposition parliamentarians members of the JSC, current Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports, Olivia “Babsy” Grange and current President of the Senate, Senator Thomas Tavares Finson, who attached a minority report to the main report tabled in Parliament, suggesting further review of Clause 15 of the Bill.
Sinclair noted that while Crawford signed the report to Parliament, he did not sign the minority report, which was attached to the main report, as an appendix. He also accused Crawford of absenting himself from discussions, and making no contribution to the debate in the House, at the most critical moment.
“And to my mind, the principle of collective responsibility applies. There was no mention of Senator Crawford advocating for the exclusion of Clause 15, nor was he referred to as a signatory to the alternate (minority) report,” he stated.
Sinclair insisted that all his references to Crawford were taken from the report of the JSC Select Committee to Parliament in 2013.
“My personal comment to him was merely to ask, why he would not support the (recent) plea of the Honourable Prime Minister for the breach of responsibility on the part of performers and, in the context of him as a member, having heard reports of studies and scientific evidence to support the notion that cultural expressions reinforce behaviour,” Sinclair said.
He said that Crawford, who was not present on June 11, when he made his presentation after Senator Matthew Samuda, Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, opened the debate, had since published in social media that: “JLP Senator Charles Sinclair blatantly lied about me, today, in my absence”.
Sinclair described the statement as “strong words, which are inflammatory”, and are aimed at impugning his character and integrity, professionally, as well as a member of the Senate.
“I take my role here seriously and, in respect to the presentation, I do my research.. It was never by intention to be disrespectful to any member. I therefore, demand that Senator Crawford remove the said social media post,” he added.
Opposition Senator Floyd Morris had taken offence at the statement complaining, on a Point of Order, that it was not what the Standing Orders allows for, or a non-controversial issue.
“I am very disheartened and surprised that as President of the Senate you could have approved what is perceived to be personal statement, because the member is attacking another member in the personal statement and that is not what the Standing Orders perceived,” Morris said.
The Senate President responded that Sinclair had stated that he was being called a “liar” by a fellow Senator and he was seeking an apology.
“I have listened to you Senator Morris and the simple, basic bottom line here is that Senator Sinclair is saying that a fellow Senator called him a liar, and he is clarifying the position, indicating what he had said, pointing out that he did not, in fact lie, and asking for an apology,” the Senate President said.
“I don't see what the hullabaloo is about,” he added, to which Senator Crawford responded, producing volumes of copies of newspaper reports and printed material which saw no link between crime and the violent lyrics and which demonstrated some of the violence lyrics he had referred to.
Crawford also accused Prime Minister Andrew Holness of using dub-plates with volatile lyrics from dancehall deejays like Skillibeng, Masicka and Intence, during the election campaign.
“I am saying that when you so stridently come to suggest that, 'My God, you cannot say these things', yet the people who say these things are the ones embraced in your effort to win an election, and the ones who don't say these things were not embraced: Now how can I take you seriously?” he said.
Crawford also defended himself against Sinclair's charge of his ignoring Clause 15 and its focus on prohibiting the use of signs, symbols, graffiti, or songs to promote or facilitate the activities of a criminal organisation. He also noted that after multiple discussions on the issue it was decided to remove Clause 15, and replaced it with Clause 16.
In 2013, Crawford told the JSC that Clause 15 of the bill was "an attack on lyrics and not an attack on gangs". He told his colleagues that the controversial clause should be thrown out or revised.
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