As debate began on pepper spray legislation in the Senate on Tuesday, Senators questioned whether the legislation was meant to protect the citizenry or the police from criminals. The Firearms Amendment Bill 2021 was laid by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial asked who the AG had consulted on the legislation, other than the Ministry of National Security. She said it took a public outcry for Government to bring the legislation to Parliament.
“Non-lethal weapons can address rape culture. They can assist in the apprehension of an offender, give a potential victim a fighting chance and allow people to protect themselves," she said.
"The government has slapped this legislation into the Firearms Act and we must now go through this long process rather than introducing new legislation with a simpler process. You are asking women who are frightened or in danger to apply to a police station, when we already know there is a delay in processing certificates, and who knows how long it might take to get a permit."
She said people charged with but not convicted of serious crimes under the Acts listed, should not be deprived of their right to have pepper spray until they were convicted.
She said there should be different formulations and strengths of pepper spray available and training on how to use the spray should be provided, especially to people under 21.
TO OUR WOMEN
Independent Senator Anthony Vieira said the legislation as it stands is disingenuous and condescending to women.
He said there is too much legal risk to access the permits and the process was too convoluted, bureaucratic, and cumbersome.
“Pepper spray can be a sword or a shield. It is obvious that the movers see it as a sword, a weapon, that needs to be registered and controlled. The definition is ambiguous as things like shilling oil, peppermint oil, and Vicks can have the same effect if applied to the mucous membranes.
"I don’t subscribe to the one-dimensional view that it can only be used as a weapon. It was invented to be a shield. Women can use it as their first and sometimes only line of defence.”
He said while government must accept the possibility that it could be used to commit crimes, he had not been able to find data to say it had been used by criminals. He said this concern was largely based on speculation, but the benefits of providing it to women outweighed the risks.
Vieira said it was interesting to note that in cases where pepper spray use was fatal, it was in the hands of the police, military and prison officers, although claims of excessive force decreased when this non-lethal means was used. He said the bill made it easier for law enforcement to get pepper spray than the people using it to protect themselves.
He said he thought criminals would continue to use guns, cutlasses, and knives, rather than reverting to pepper spray, which they also would obtain without a license. He asked why people would not be allowed to obtain more than one canister to give to family members. Vieira proposed an alternative arrangement based on different available strengths of pepper spray.
NO NEED FOR
“There’s no need to have military-grade pepper spray in everyone’s hands. Pepper spray ranges from two to ten per cent capsaicin. Police usually use five to ten per cent, the government could pass an amendment that under three per cent is not offensive.
"For those who want safeguards, there can be two tracks, where three per cent and below is readily available and over four per cent is covered under this legislation. We need to focus on the purpose of this legislation. If it is to allow law enforcement to have access to pepper spray, then say so, but if use by women is the point then there need to be fewer obstacles.”
Opposition Senator Wade Mark proposed the transition period for people who were already in possession of pepper spray should not include people who were importing pepper spray in commercial quantities for sale, as he had been advised that people had imported large quantities of pepper spray illegally and were waiting for the passage of the amendments to be able to sell it.
He said firearms dealers should be allowed to import and sell pepper spray as they already had mechanisms in place. Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh and Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal said that from personal experience, they supported the provision of pepper spray to women and girls.