New party head supports abortion, marijuana, LGBT rights

File photo: Nikoli Edwards
File photo: Nikoli Edwards

Speaking with Newsday, Nikoli Edwards said as the leader of the newly formed Progressive Party he supports abortion, marijuana legalisation and protecting the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer (LBGTQ) community.

Edwards, 27, also said he would like to see prison reform and an eventual transfer of the energy sector that would make it greener and shrink the carbon footprint.

On gender equality, Edwards said it would be a huge win if the right legislative changes are made to support the rights of LGBT people in TT. Asked what changes he thinks would be necessary, Edwards stressed amending the Equal Opportunity Act and spoke about the implementation of a gender policy responsive to the needs of the citizens.

"We have a gender policy that leaves out things such as recognising various sexual orientations," he said. "We need to amend the Equal Opportunity Act to incorporate gender as a form of discrimination. As it stands right now, we do not have provisions for gender in the act. This means that the Equal Opportunity Commission cannot pick up matters where there are gender discrimination."

Edwards said his party sees gender as defined by what people choose to identify as, and not tied to the sex which people are assigned at birth. He said gender is based on societal definitions and is different from sex, which is biological.

"Persons can choose to either identify as male or female," Edwards said.

On abortion, Edwards said he is pro-choice, meaning he supports the decision of the woman to terminate the pregnancy. However, he said as of now he believes a termination should only occur before the heartbeat of the baby is detectable. A heartbeat is first detectable approximately 22 days after conception.

"I think detecting the heartbeat is an appropriate road to take, but then again many times women don't even know they are pregnant until after the 22 days have passed," he said.

Where the woman bearing the child is at risk of death, he believes an abortion should be permitted, as well as in cases where she may have conceived as a result of sexual assault.

Edwards said right now he believes an abortion beyond the first trimester threatens a life and would not be inclined to support that.

Speaking about the decriminalsation of marijuana, Edwards said TT should look beyond that to legalisation, and once legalisation occurs, corporate monopolisation should not be allowed.

"They are currently persons waiting in line to monopolise a legalised environment and that is something we have to pay close attention to and monitor to ensure that everyone has a fair chance. We have seen certain conglomerates capitalise on alcohol and tobacco. We cannot have a situation where (if legal) paying for marijuana from a company becomes extremely expensive."

On prison reform, Edwards said TT needs to use alternative dispute resolution rather than people being imprisoned for punitive reasons. He stressed the implementation of processes such as mediation, conciliation, arbitration and negotiation.

"I do think we need to reform the criminal justice system, moving away from this retributive or punitive system and instead incorporate restorative justice."

Edwards said his legislative changes would ensure certain criminal matters are allowed to go to mediation first, reducing the number of casese taken to the court and "clogging up the system."

Edwards is the son of Hassan Atwell, one of three prisoners who escaped from the Frederick Street prison in 2015. The escapees killed a police officer after they shot their way out of the prison. Atwell was reportedly killed shortly aftwerwards by gang members.

A percentage of the money that TT has collected from oil and gas, he said, should have been invested continuously in the Green Fund to ensure the development of a renewable energy sector.

"When we think about solar energy and turbines and so on, TT is ripe for those kinds of opportunities. It's high time that government invest significantly in these renewable forms of energy."

Edwards said his party does not claim to have all the answers to all the problems, but that proper consultation would be taken on all the above issues before any significant action is taken if the party gains legislative power.

Edwards studied communications at UWI, St Augustine, served in 2017 as an independent senator and is a motivational speaker with a Canadian-based firm.

He launched the Progressive Party on June 16 and said since then it has received approximately 100 requests from people who would like to join. Edwards said the party does not have any financiers besides himself, but right now not much funding is needed. He said past funds have come out of his own pocket and that going forward, contributions will be accepted.

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