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Govt retains private lawyers in shantytowns fight
Carl Bethel.

The government has retained a legal team led by Harvey Tynes, QC, to assume carriage of the judicial review action brought by Fred Smith, QC, on behalf of 177 shantytown residents who claim the Minnis administration acted illegally when it ordered them to vacate their communities by the end of this week.

Robert Adams of Graham Thompson in Grand Bahama is also on the team, according to Attorney General Carl Bethel.

“The team of expert constitutional lawyers would greatly assist in achieving a timely resolution of the action, whereby the laudable and humane objectives of the government efforts to regulate and/or eliminate irregular shantytowns could benefit from guidance of the Supreme Court,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian.

Last Friday, Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson granted leave for a judicial review of the government’s actions regarding the shantytowns.

On Saturday, she granted an injunction stopping the government from demolishing the shantytowns.

The government had said most of the New Providence shantytowns would be demolished after August 10.

The injunction also prevents disconnecting any utilities other than pursuant to the relevant enabling legislation.

Last week, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who heads the Shantytown Action Task Force, said utilities would be disconnected ahead of the demolition.

The injunction states: “Pending the determination of this action or until further order, the respondents be and are hereby restrained directly or through their agents, appointees or employers from taking possession of, demolishing any building on, or otherwise interfering with the 177 applicants’ and other residents’ and occupiers’ enjoyment of land in shantytowns in New Providence, including by disconnecting any utilities other than pursuant to the relevant enabling legislation.”

While the injunction speaks specifically to New Providence shantytowns, some of the 177 applicants are listed in the court action as residents of Abaco.

The government has said it will clear Abaco shantytowns by next July.

The court action names Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis; Foulkes; Bethel; Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister; Bahamas Power and Light and the Water and Sewerage Corporation as respondents in the matter.

As a part of the action, an affidavit from Stephanie St. Fleur has been filed. St. Fleur is president and director of Respect Our Homes Ltd.

She is also president of Rights Bahamas, a human rights organization.

“The challenges faced by persons of Haitian ethnic origin have existed since the 1950s, but they have dramatically increased over the last few decades and more particularly since November 2014 when the government of The Bahamas, through then Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, announced new immigration and subsequent eradication of shantytown policies,” she states.

“The immigration issues are an integral part of the matters complained of by this application.”

In recent times there has been an influx of illegal immigration from Haiti to The Bahamas, mostly as a stepping stone to the United States, according to St. Fleur’s affidavit.

She states, “Apparently, the government has perceived that shantytowns offer a safe haven for illegal migrants and, and conveniently for the needs of urbanization, has taken the position that it will demolish shantytowns to prevent them being underground railroads to the USA.

“In addition, as former Cabinet Minister Tennyson Wells most recently put it, destroying shantytowns will force ethnic Haitian communities to integrate with Bahamian communities.”

St. Fleur states the court action is concerned to ensure that the residents gain “protection of the law” to which “every person in The Bahamas is entitled” in accordance with rights set out in the constitution.

A hearing date for the application has not yet been decided.

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