George Town Member of the Legislative Assembly and former radio talk show presenter Ellio Solomon has quizzed police chief David Baines of whether protesters at a public meeting in Bodden Town had police permission to demonstrate.
Commissioner of Police Mr. Baines told Mr. Solomon that the demonstrators, who held placards and shouted slogans during the meeting on Thursday, 8 March, had not filed an application to hold a demonstration.
However, the police commissioner said police officers who were present at the meeting did not see any behaviour that would have led them to make arrests or detain any of the protesters.
The meeting, called by the UDP government to discuss the proposed development of a waste facility in Bodden Town, attracted dozens of protesters opposed to the project. They stood at the back of the parking lot at the post office where the meeting was held, holding placards reading “Don’t dump on Bodden Town” and “Keep Bodden Town dump free”.
Insisting he had no issue with anyone holding demonstrations, Mr. Solomon described the protest as a “worrying development”.
He described himself as being “first in that race to make sure people could express themselves”, but wanted to raise the issue because there was likely to be further public meetings and corresponding protests.
“I’m not lodging a specific complaint here,” Mr. Solomon told Mr. Baines at a Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, 13 March. “I’m just raising the issue, because what we had … was an organised demonstration and my understanding is that the law of the Cayman Islands says if I organise a demonstration, I have to seek permission for that.”
Mr. Solomon added: “There were a significantly large number of persons. There was a lot of shouting and screaming, to me almost an attempt to try to make sure you couldn’t hear the speakers on the platform. Then there seemed to have been almost arguably a growing friction between those who came … in support and those who came against.”
He called for a policy to be set on how to deal with such demonstrations in the future.
“Let us not be able to say a month or a year from now that it has not been raised as something that should have been considered,” he said.
Mr. Baines responded: “You will be well aware that people as an individual can stop and pronounce and exercise their democratic right to protest, but it’s not deemed to be a procession.”
The police chief said that under existing legislation, processions or demonstrations in public places require applications to be filed with the Commissioner of Police if they could potentially disrupt traffic, block roads or breach the peace or public order.
“There is general legislation which is about breach of the peace and public order, but that does not go against democratic society’s right to protest,” the police commissioner said.
He said police could take action to maintain peace in the event of a demonstration turning violent, if rocks or punches were thrown, or if demonstrators shouted foul language.