Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday the PLP intends to oppose amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, which would provide for evacuation orders to be made by the prime minister.
“…In order to suspend civil liberties, which this bill proposes to do, you have to come squarely within the provision of Article 29 of the constitution. This does not do that,” said Davis at a monthly press conference at the PLP headquarters on Farrington Road.
“There is already the authorizing power to suspend civil liberties under Article 29 and there is an Emergency Powers Act which enables how to execute under Article 29. The bill requires substantial revision and more work before it can get our support.”
Under the constitution, civil liberties may be suspended through a proclamation of emergency by the governor general during certain periods, like war time.
Whenever a proclamation of emergency is in force, the Emergency Powers Act provides that the governor general may make such regulations as appears to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defense of The Bahamas, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life and well-being of the community.
Under the proposed amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act tabled in the House of Assembly last week, residents who refuse to leave mandatory evacuation zones would face up to a month in prison.
“Where an evacuation order is in effect, any person within the specified area, island or cay who refuses without justifiable cause to evacuate, commits an offense and is liable to a term of imprisonment of one month or to a fine not exceeding $500 or to both such fine and imprisonment…,” the bill notes.
“…Where such refusal is likely to imperil the life of another, imprisonment of three months or to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
The bill would authorize the government to impose curfews and prohibit travel in areas declared mandatory evacuation zones.
The proposed bill would also prohibit the movement of anyone “within any specified area or island where necessary.”
First responders would not be obligated to risk their lives to rescue or recover residents in evacuation zones until the Department of Meteorology has given the all clear that weather conditions are “no longer a threat”, according to the proposed legislation.
Ahead of Hurricane Dorian, which struck in early September, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis appealed to residents in certain areas of the Abacos and Grand Bahama to evacuate their homes. Not everyone did.
Minnis had promised in opposition that he would introduce such a bill. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, he also promised that his government would immediately bring the bill, but never did.
While in government, Perry Christie, the former PLP leader, had also promised such legislation.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Christie said, “Very clearly serious consideration must be given immediately to, I think, advancing the way in which we are able to mitigate the damage of a hurricane and the results of hurricanes, which is to in fact provide for mandatory evacuation even if it is limited to particular areas in The Bahamas that we know have a history of being submerged by water.”
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham also addressed the issue after touring storm-ravaged communities on Abaco last month.
“How can the government pass a law that says if you don’t come I am going to arrest you, handcuff you, and carry you where – to shelter and have the police watch you or take you to Fox Hill prison? So, mandatory evacuation means that the government will say move; urge you to move — if you don’t move, I’m not going to be able to come and get you after a certain time, but don’t believe any story that says I am going to lift you up and carry you. That [is not going to] happen. It doesn’t happen in the United States of America where you get that from and it [isn’t going to] happen here,” Ingraham said.
On another issue yesterday, Davis said he is considering a proposed amendment to the bill to deal with the scores of reported missing persons in the aftermath of the storm who many presume are dead.
He said the legal requirement for someone to be missing for seven years before being declared dead should be shortened.
Speaking to the same issue recently, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the coroner is empowered to use discretion in making declarations of death.
More than 400 people are listed as missing more than a month after Hurricane Dorian.