Govt faces fight on land acquisition plan

The government’s plan for the compulsory acquisition of shantytown land on Abaco is being met with strong pushback, with Fred Smith, QC, accusing Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis of “heeding the cry of the lynch mob” instead of showing compassion for fellow Christians who have just suffered a terrible disaster.

Despite serious injuries from a recent paragliding accident in Italy, Smith on Monday wrote to the Office of the Attorney General reminding of the existence of an injunction handed down by Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.

“…The injunction covers all shantytown land in New Providence as well as such land on Abaco occupied by specific applicants who are residents of shantytowns in Abaco,” Smith wrote.

“We stress that recent events do not change the terms of the injunction, which remains in full force and effect unless and until varied by the court.”

The Abaco shantytowns were decimated by Hurricane Dorian in early September. Many of the residents from those areas are of Haitian heritage and are now homeless, but some returned to those areas seeking to carry on with their lives.

After the storm, the government issued an immediate six-month ban on the construction of new buildings in shantytowns.

Minnis announced in the House of Assembly a week ago that the government intends to acquire the land.

Article 27 of the constitution empowers the government to compulsorily acquire land where it determines such acquisition to be in the public interest. 

But Smith insisted that Hurricane Dorian has not magically swept away the rights of shantytown residents. 

“Our clients continue to enjoy the same rights post-Dorian as they did pre-Dorian,” he wrote. 

“Nor can the injunction be overridden or side-stepped by the use of other executive powers, which are alarmingly being vocally expressed, in very draconian and terrifying terms, to our clients, by the executive.”

Smith claimed the government has picked shantytown land to make an order in relation to because of its “preoccupation” with illegal immigration.

He claimed that the government’s actions relating to the property in question “is clearly discriminatory as it targets those persons on the grounds of their place of origin and ethnicity, and it is clearly unlawful under the constitution”.

“To put it bluntly, it is nothing but rank, transparent, inhuman and degrading discrimination,” Smith wrote.

He added, “In any event we put you on notice that a prohibition to build order is exactly that and nothing more. It is not a means by which the government can take possession of land. It may not be used to deprive people of their personal property or prevent the recovery of the same.”

Smith is asking the government to respect the injunction and the fact that the matter is sub judice.

He further noted that the acquisition mechanism under the Acquisition of Land Act 1913 is only engaged “whenever it appears to the minister [responsible for the acquisition and disposition of lands] that any particular land is needed for a public purpose”, subject to Article 27 of the constitution.

“The purpose of eradicating people from land based on their immigration status or ethnicity is plainly not a public purpose,” Smith wrote.

He added: “The marketplace has been rabid with violent, racist, xenophobic, discriminatory, hateful diatribes and invective against the poor victims of Hurricane Dorian in the shantytowns in Abaco.”

However, the government has repeatedly insisted that it is handling the illegal immigration issue humanely while enforcing immigration laws.

In his letter, Smith urged the government to “heed the limits of its powers” as it relates to the shantytown matter.

Last week, Minnis visited Sand Banks, a shantytown in Treasure Cay, Abaco.

After kicking down a door of one of the few remaining structures, he ordered the senior police officer in North Abaco to have the shantytown torn down.

The prime minister’s order was carried out on the weekend.

Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Nassau Guardian yesterday evening that Smith’s letter is under review.

He had no further comment.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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