Protester’s fears over pepper-spray review

  • Uncomfortable experience: pepper spray was used duting protests against airport deal (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Pepper-sprayed protesters fear a judicial review will not uncover the events behind the civil disorder outside Parliament 18 months ago.

One source close to the application for a judicial review of the Police Complaints Authority report into the disturbances on December 2, 2016 said he feared that the retirement of Commissioner of Police Michael DeSilva and the replacement of Ginny Ferson, who was Acting Governor at the time of the protest, would hinder any review.

The source said: “My concern about this whole process is we see key players off to retirement or elsewhere and it doesn’t seem the level of accountability sought by the Joint Select Committee will be forthcoming.”

The source was speaking after a judicial review request hearing scheduled for last Thursday did not go ahead.

The insider said: “There needs to be a level of official accountability. I would like to see those who did take the action outside of orders to face disciplinary action, up to and including being terminated from the police force because it was an abuse of power.

“There should not be a double standard in terms of officers enforcing the law; they should not be above the law. I would also want to see some higher level of training.”

The source added: “I know how pepper spray is supposed to be used and what I saw that day was not the way it should be done.

“In crowd containment, if force is being used, the protesters usually have an avenue to get away, but everyone was blocked off.

“There was no space to get away from the action.”

A PCA inquiry into the incident criticised police leadership and planning, but no individual officers were found to be at fault.

The inquiry came after protesters blockaded the House of Assembly to demonstrate against controversial plans to redevelop the island’s airport through a public-private partnership.

The Progressive Labour Party, which was then the Opposition, also called for the public-private deal with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and developers Aecon to be scrapped.

The plan was approved in the House of Assembly in February last year and David Burt, as the Opposition leader, asked the Senate to block the deal.

A combination of One Bermuda Alliance and independent senators, however, backed the deal the same month.

Mr Burt commissioned a report by consultants LeighFisher after the PLP won power last year, which found the cost to axe the deal only months into the project would have been huge.

The Premier said the price tag would have been a minimum of $196 million and that it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to axe the contract.

The LeighFisher report said that, after talks with the Bermuda Airport Authority and airport operator Skyport, consultants had identified about $15 million in “enhancements for Bermuda and Bermudians” that could be negotiated.

But the source said: “The Government still has options to remove itself from the contract if we examine other territories that have had Aecon and CCC. They have filed official complaints with the Canadian Government which is in charge of CCC, and the Canadian Government has called for these contracts to be voided or altered.

“There is still space for the Government to manoeuvre, but they would need some assistance from the private sector for creative financing to, in effect, buy the airport back.”

The insider said: “I think a compromise could be made in terms of the scenario and the inclusion of elements that were not in the Aecon build proposal.

“The Causeway is still an issue and a rise in sea levels is still an issue.”