The Minister of Home Affairs has dismissed calls for withdrawing a new Bill giving priority to the Immigration and Protection Act over the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Commission has branded government plans “reckless” and warned that watering down the supremacy of human rights legislation threatens the “shield” that protects international human rights standards and freedoms on the island.
But Walton Brown told The Royal Gazette the Bermuda Immigration (No 2) Act did nothing to undermine the HRA and simply provided clarity to “what has been law and policy for decades”. He also revealed the Government would meet representatives from the HRC today after the adverse reaction to the Bill that was tabled in Parliament last Friday.
“There is no compelling reason why the Bill should be withdrawn,” Mr Brown said. “Nothing we are doing is weakening the Human Rights Act. It has been clearly thought through and has passed through the various stages before it is presented to the House. We will debate it and I am confident it will pass.”
Asked if he was surprised by the reaction to the legislation, Mr Brown replied: “I am used to it in political discourse; I look at laws that will make Bermuda a better place. I do not personalise issues. This is not about personalities.”
The Government’s move is designed to prevent court challenges to immigration law by non-Bermudians claiming discrimination on the grounds of place of origin over rights of residence and Bermuda status.
Mr Brown said: “The Bill makes clear what has been the law and policy for decades: that those who hold Bermuda status or a PRC have different rights in terms of employment to those who do not have Bermuda status or PRC.
“As someone who has been an advocate for human rights for 30 years, my track record should speak for itself. I am a strong proponent of rights in the HRA and believe they need to be broadened.
“We don’t have age discrimination and our Constitution is silent on the issue of gender discrimination. We have fundamental discrimination in Bermuda that needs to be addressed.”
The HRC has condemned the Government for pushing ahead with the legislation without “proper consultation”, while warning that the HRA should not be portrayed as “either a tool to be manipulated, or for manipulation”.
But Mr Brown countered the assertion saying: “We are not undermining human rights, we are strengthening the rights of Bermudians, while at the same time recognising the human rights of people remain important.
“We have to recognise that Bermudians have fundamental rights in their country and these rights are in part protected by the Immigration and Protection Act.
“This country does not allow anyone to come in and buy land with no constraints, nor does it allow anyone to come in and work without a work permit; there are constraints on that.
“This is about the issues relating to immigration status, not the rights of women or a gay person, which are protected by the Human Rights Act.
“This is not immigration reform; this is bringing clarity to a specific area.
“There was consultation with the HRC and extensive dialogue but we disagreed on the way forward.”