MIXED views were expressed by some stakeholders last week to draft fireworks legislation proposed by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
On Wednesday, Al-Rawi sent a signed letter regarding consultations on the Summary Offences (Amendment) Bill 2021) which contains the draft fireworks legislative amendments and a copy of the bill to stakeholders.
Al-Rawi hinted at these legislative amendments on January 2, after fireworks were cited as the cause of a fire on Quarry Street, Port of Spain, on January 1 which left about 23 people homeless. The deadline for submissions on the proposals is January 26
Animal rights activist Elspeth Duncan said, "'The draft bill is unclear, inadequate and does not offer solutions to the current problems posed by reckless discharge of fireworks (e.g. trauma and in some cases death, to animals and people, danger to property/fire hazard)."
She added, "Instead, it seems to pitch itself in favour of even more reckless firework usage."
In the absence of a complete ban on fireworks, Duncan argued the only sensible solution is banning the sale of fireworks to the public and should there be any fireworks' displays, these should be state-sanctioned, held within very specific regions and for limited time frames, such as ten minutes.
Animals 360 Foundation founder Roger Duncan was disappointed and bewildered by the proposals. He said the proposals undermined a lot of the work done and recommendations previously made by the Parliament's Social Services and Public Administration joint select committee, the Environmental Management Authority, police and several private sector organisations to safeguard the population against the hazards created by fireworks
Citing sections 4 and 53 of the Constitution, which respectively refer to the rights of a person to enjoyment of property and Parliament's requirement to make laws for peace, order and good governance, Marshall said the proposals take away the little protection which exists under sections 99 to 100 of the Summary Offences Act and introduced a free-for-all in residential areas on public holidays and December 31, within specific hours.
"This requires the Cabinet to review the existing laws which permit cruelty (in this case from the discharge of fireworks) and to enact new laws that will protect the citizens. This is not being accomplished with these proposed legislative amendments which we view as irresponsible."
Marshall said TT should be following the examples of countries such as Barbados and Chile "where the sale, importation and use of fireworks by the general public is prohibited and there are licensed fireworks operators to conduct public fireworks displays at approved dates, times and locations.
Marshall supported Port of Spain North/St Ann's West MP Stuart Young's view that fireworks should not be sold to the public. "It is the mature way forward as we motivate a caring, responsible culture."
In a statement, the Zoological Society welcomed the proposed amendment of the Summary Offences Act to regulate fireworks. "This is an issue that we have been advocating for over time. The zoo has been distressed with the discharge of fireworks in the vicinity and the stress caused to the animals has even been fatal in one year."
The society also welcomed the proposal to stop the discharge of fireworks within a half-mile radius of the zoo. "This will be beneficial to the animals. The other provisions once they are in effect will help to reduce the deleterious effects of fireworks."
Fire One Fireworks Ltd managing director Andre Abraham said when the company started in 1995,"we created an industry which allowed consumers to purchase a safe product which met all the high, international safety standards."
While he has not studied the legislative proposals, Abraham said Fire One operates a safe business because the company is responsible and has been doing the right thing from the very beginning. "In order to maintain a safe industry, you have to have a safe product." The company's products are rigorously tested in overseas laboratories and properly labelled, he added.
Abraham said this was in stark contrast to previous years "where you would get an overpowered scratch bomb from Venezuela with no labelling." He recalled Government's previous decision to outlaw scratch bombs and impose hefty fines on anyone who uses them. "We were very happy about that because basically now, the consumer was demotivated from buying an overpowered, dangerous item and we gave them the choice to buy a safe product."
In the absence of fireworks laws, Abraham said Fire One continues to publicly advise people on the safe and responsible use of fireworks. He was happy that on December 31, there was no large discharge of fireworks apart from a 20 minute period after midnight, creating a win-win situation for pet lovers and people who like fireworks. "On the bright side , it (covid19 pandemic) has made people appreciate the simple things in life."
The draft legislation, Abraham continued, "is all in line with our vision, where we can can live in a society where we are our brother's keeper and and look out for each other." He said it is important for everyone to think about what is good for TT.
Dr Fuad Khan said animals tend to be affected by fireworks more than elderly people. "You will find by the (Emperor Valley) Zoo and the (Queen's Park Savannah) it is much less than half a mile or if it is half a mile, sound carries into the zoo. That should be banned"
Fireworks, he continued, should be down in "the town areas or in the sea, on a barge." Khan suggested the promotion of silent fireworks instead of noisy ones. There should also be restrictions on Chinese lanterns. He said no child under age 12 should be allowed to discharge fireworks. "Parents should be the ones doing it, not the children."
Fireworks do not affect people in nursing homes too much and Khan said, "Most of it (fireworks) because most of those nursing homes are air conditioned and the sound of the fireworks does not travel inside to any great extent."
He suggested fireworks should not be discharged within a mile of any nursing or convalescent home. Khan agreed the proposals did nothing to stop fireworks being discharged on public holidays and December 31 (Old Year's Day). Other doctors, speaking on condition of anonymity, said babies should not be exposed to fireworks because their ears experience the greatest amount of sound pressure.
They said exposure to loud noises can cause tinnitus – ringing in the ears, which can be a symptom of hearing loss. Particles left in the air after fireworks' discharge can affect older people who have heart conditions or conditions that affect breathing such as asthma.
The main legislative amendments contained in the proposed Summary Offences (Amendment) Act 2021 are: regulating the use of fireworks through a permit system; making breaches of the law a ticketable offence via a fixed penalty system; general provisions for permit to be granted to use fireworks; requirements to notify certain entities about the intended use of fireworks; the use of fireworks on specified days without a permit; restrictions on the use of fireworks by certain people; restrictions for the use of fireworks in designated areas and for the relevant minister to make regulations.