A GROUP of attorneys representing social activist Barrington Thomas has written to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi complaining of the ticketing of the homeless in San Fernando for failing to wear masks.
They say the regulations had a “grossly disproportionate and discriminatory effect” on the homeless.
At least five homeless people were issued fixed penalty tickets by police for failing to wear masks in public. It is one of the measures implemented to curb the spread of covid19.
The mask bill became law on August 31. It carries a $1,000 penalty if ticketed.
In a pre-action protocol letter sent to Al-Rawi on Sunday, attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan, said the issue surround the homeless was complex.
In the letter, Taklalsingh said while they accept the regulations are necessary for the protection of the general public, it appeared that they did not contemplate the plight of those who have no private space.
“This brings into question whether or not it is medically safe for any individual to have a mask or its equivalent covering their noses and mouths on a permanent basis.
“In other words, the strict enforcement of these regulations may be endangering the health of persons who live within public spaces. Respectfully, we suggest that a more humanitarian approach be conceptualised and implemented with alacrity and promptitude,” the letter said.
Taklalsingh said they did not blame the police for enforcing the regulations, but called on the AG to subject them to Parliamentary scrutiny.
He said while the public health ordinance allows the Minister of Health to create criminal offences under the regulations, statute which infringe on rights and freedoms cannot be broad and unspecific.
“The principle of legality requires that all laws, particularly those which attract sanctions, are stated in clear and unambiguous terms.
“The principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost. Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process,” the AG was told.
The attorneys have called on the AG to consider the effect the regulations had on the socially displaced and destitute and make the necessary adjustments.
“Perhaps, the State may wish to consider creating an obligation for State bodies to provide masks to these individuals prior to instituting charges. We also hasten to point out that if these regulations were laid in Parliament there could have been wider consultation and input which may have produced a viable solution to this issue,” the letter suggested.
It also warned that if nothing is done to rectify the “oppressive circumstances” the regulations placed on the homeless, Thomas will institute judicial review proceedings.