The Anti-Gang law was passed in the Senate last night with 24 votes from all Government and Independent senators - while the Opposition United National Congress abstained.
The bill was passed with amendments at 9.12 pm.
Last night’s passage of a reformatted version of the bill finally came after futile efforts in 2017 and November 2020, when the UNC did not support the bill on both of those occasions. It had required a special majority - and Opposition votes for passage - then.
The version of the bill which was passed last night required only simple majority votes for passage. Clauses affecting certain constitutional issues - which the UNC had rejected - were removed.
The bill seeks to tackle gangs from their targets outside in the public to operations “inside” and their counsellors and supporters alongside them.
The bill must now be debated in the House of Representatives.
In earlier debate on bill, National security Minister Stuart Young said it will deal with gang members threatening contractors and workers and will also tackle problems where people in housing developments have been evicted by trespassing gangs.
Young also said the TTPS and army are currently engaged in going after gangs involved in human trafficking, bringing people from Venezuela to T&T for prostitution.
Young rubbished Opposition claims that the bill wasn’t necessary, since its offences are already catered for in other bills. “The offences in this bill are specific offences on gangs which exist only in this,” he said.
Young added, “There’s no part of society that hasn’t been touched by criminal gang activity. This bill is absolutely necessary.”
Young said his view of the “somewhat watered-down bill” was that it would still give police a fighting chance to pursue gangs and piece together information.
He reiterated that some of T&T’s gangs, “Rastas City,” “Muslims,” “Sixx,”, “ABG,” plus splinter groups.
Young said T&T gangs are very sophisticated, operating with the advantage of knowing what they would do when. He said there are people with Master’s degrees, MBAs and degrees in international relations who are part of gangs who also have legal and financial advisers.
He said gang leaders don’t carry illegal firearms but this is passed down the chain of command, “and they move in convoys, more sophisticated than state convoys,.”
While the TTPS dismantled some, he said gangs are diversifying and are in real estate, rental of property and cars, illegal gambling, money laundering, narco-trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution.
Offences covered by the bill include threatening members of the public with extortion and demanding money with menace. He said this is particularly needed.
“We’re all aware when certain contracts are being done, criminals go to the site and threaten contractors and workers that unless they get to participate in the contract, all hell would break loose,” Young said.
He said efforts have been made to target this problem, which is difficult since people are afraid to come forward.
Another offence includes trespassing. Young noted housing developments in various MPs’ areas, including East Port-of-Spain, and his constituency – Charford Court, Harpe Place, St Francois Valley –were plagued by culprits occupying people’s property and evicting them.
Other aspects target rape, grievous assault and kidnapping for ransom. He noted the recent unfortunate East Trinidad case. The bill also targets people who counsel or provide support/assistance to gangs/members, aiding and abetting gangsters and coercing people to join a gang. Also covered is child prostitution and living off the earnings of a child, sexual grooming, keeping a brothel, harbouring gangs/members and preventing people from leaving a gang.
Law must include misogyny - UNC’s John
UNC senator Jearlean John called for the bill to also prevent misogyny (the dislike of, contempt for women) and deem it a hate crime. She noted outcry in England where a woman (Sarah Everard) was found dead recently. She said ways must be found to add domestic violence and similar issues to Anti-Gang law. John noted girls are often victims in gangs and many teenage pregnancies occur
The same way the Attorney General said authorities used the “follow the money” trail in a January kidnap/murder, John recommended “follow the violence.”
John noted candlelight vigils being held around T&T seeking an end to violence against women. She said the bill should at least have something to stem misogyny, which she said is a gateway to other bad cultures.
“It must be deemed a hate crime,” she said.