As we look on at the protests taking place across the United States, some of us in T&T may want to participate in a local public protest or demonstration as a sign of solidarity. But what exactly are our rights as it relates to protesting in T&T?
In T&T we have the freedom of association and assembly
The Constitution of Trinidad & Tobago grants us the freedom of association and assembly. This means that the people of T&T have the right and ability to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue, and defend our collective or shared ideas - we have the right to come together in public and take part in peaceful public meetings, marches, processions or demonstrations. However, you must first obtain the requisite permits to do so.
You need to notify the Commissioner of Police to have a public meeting
A public meeting is any assembly or gathering of persons in public, called together or held for the purpose of dealing with, discussing or expressing views on matters of public interest.
A person who desires to hold or call together any public meeting must notify the Commissioner of Police at least 48 hours but no more than fourteen days before the day on which the meeting is proposed to be held.
The notification must be in writing, signed by the person or persons desiring to hold or call together the meeting and must state:
After receiving notification about the meeting, the Commissioner of Police can give directions to the persons holding or calling together the meeting. He can give conditions to them that appear necessary to him for the preservation of peace and public order. The Commissioner of Police can also prohibit the meeting all together - he must do so in writing and he must also state, in writing, the reasons for the prohibition.
Any person who holds any public meeting without notifying the Commissioner of Police or calls together or holds a public meeting after the meeting was prohibited from being held or fails, neglects or refuses to comply with any condition given by the Commissioner of Police for the public meeting, is liable to a fine of $10,000TT or to imprisonment for 2 years. [Section 109(7) of the Summary Offences Act].
Additionally, no public meeting is allowed to be conducted in such a way that it results in a public march that has not been permitted by the Commissioner of Police. If such a public meeting results in a public march, the holder of the public meeting would be guilty of an offence and would liable to a fine of $4000TT and to imprisonment for 18 months. (Section 110 of the Summary Offences Act).
You need a permit for a public march
In T&T, no person may organize, lead or take part in any public march unless a permit has been issued for the march by the Commissioner of Police (according to section 112 of the Summary Offences Act).
A person who desires to organize any public march must apply to the Commissioner of Police for a permit at least 48 hours before, but no more than fourteen days before the day on which the public march is to take place.
Every application has to be in writing, signed by the person or persons desiring to organise the public march and must state:
The Commissioner of Police will decide whether or not he would grant or refuse the application. Where the application is refused he will state in writing the reasons for the refusal. Where an application is granted, the Commissioner of Police will issue the applicant a permit for the march specifying the route to be followed and the times between which it may take place and any other terms the Commissioner of Police may consider necessary for the preservation of public safety and public order.
Additionally, no person can address persons taking part in a public march in a way that makes the public march a public meeting unless there is prior permission in writing from the Commissioner of Police and only to the extent of that permission. If this happens, the person addressing the public march, the organiser and leader of the march can be liable to a fine of $4000TT and to imprisonment for eighteen months. (Section 115 of the Summary Offences Act).
Any person who takes part in any public march for which a permit has not been obtained or takes part in a public march that is not in accordance with the terms of the permit that was granted, he or she will be liable to a fine of $2000TT or to imprisonment for 12 months (Section 124 of the Summary Offences Act).
Additionally, a person who leads, organises or attempts to organise; or incites any person to organise or take part in, any public march that is not in accordance with the Summary Offences Act, is liable to a fine of $4000TT and to imprisonment for 18 months (section 125 of the Summary Offences Act).
Protesting during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Unfortunately, during the Covid-19 pandemic it is unlikely that the Commissioner of Police would allow a public meeting or grant a permit for a public march. This is because the assembly or march would be in contravention of the Public Health Regulations [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)] (NO. 16) REGULATIONS, 2020.
According to the regulations, from the 1st of June 2020 to the 26th of June 2020, a person should not (without reasonable justification), be at a public place where the number of persons gathered at any time exceeds five. A person who does not follow this rule commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $50,000TT and imprisonment for six months.
It should be noted that because the situation with the Covid-19 pandemic remains fluid, it is likely that the time period for this law would be extended past the 26th of June, 2020 as subsequent updates are made to the Public Health Regulations.
Other ways to show solidarity
There are other ways to show solidarity without gathering in large numbers. You can show support online through social media or by donating to charities, foundations and platforms that supports the movement you believe in.
Important Notice: This post does not constitute or provide legal advice. Always consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any legal problem or issue.