Prominent Senior Counsel Israel Khan is calling for an amendment to the COVID-19 regulations giving the police power to arrest people in their private residences if they breach the gathering restriction.
While acknowledging that that move would be in breach of citizens' constitutional rights, Khan believes that it is necessary given the fact that the pandemic continues to be a clear and present danger to the entire society.
His call follows the arrest of 250 people at a zesser party over the weekend in Kelly Village, Caroni. Members of the public have been questioning why the police targeted the zesser party but ignored a large gathering of guests at a wedding in Valsayn.
There was a similar debate in September when people questioned why the police arrested patrons at a zesser party in Sea Lots but failed to arrest the attendees to a pool party at Bayside Towers, Cocorite.
Weighing in on this issue yesterday, Khan said, "That is a private residence (Valsayn wedding). Remember the Bayside issue, that is a private residence."
Asked if the Public Health Ordinance required clarification on this issue, Khan said the law needs to be amended to extend the gathering restriction to private residences.
"They need an amendment to the law to say that if you gather with more than so many people in your private residence you would be charged."
However, he said that would require a special majority in Parliament because it would be in breach of citizens' constitutional rights.
"You’re breaching the constitutional rights of a citizen of privacy and if you have to breach that right you have to have a majority in Parliament. But the Government should still bring it and let the Opposition vote against it so people will know that the Opposition doesn't care about the country. The Opposition, they care about themselves to get into power."
Lamenting that people were not taking the regulations seriously, Khan recommended that the 250 zesser partygoers be slapped with the maximum fine.
"They should receive the maximum fine of $50,000 and if they plead guilty, deduct a third of it. They’re supposed to fine people now, heavily and the promoters, fine them heavily, the maximum."
He said such irresponsible conduct could have serious health consequences.
"The promoters, they don't care, they want to make money. The people who are irresponsible, they could contract the coronavirus and they strong, they may be young people, but they could pass it on to other people,” he said.
Khan said if the population continues to disregard the regulations, then more drastic measures would have to be taken.
"You see what has happened, if this thing getting out of the hand the country will have to declare a state of emergency. Toronto lockdown, all over the world, this is a serious thing and Trinidadians are generally foolish people."
President of the Assembly of Southern Lawyers Michael Rooplal also said there needs to be clarity in the regulation about what constitutes a public and private place.
He said, "I think what we are seeing now in terms of all these different events and the public uproar as to what constitutes a private as opposed to a public event, and what constitutes a private gathering as opposed to a public gathering for the purposes of the regulation, perhaps there should have been a definition of what was meant by a public gathering for the purpose of the regulation. And if there was a definition in the regulation of what that constituted, then we may not be the position that we are in today."
Rooplal said he understood the regulations as saying that once the event was by-invitation-only in a private setting, there is no entrance fee and it is not open to the public at large, then it could be classified as a private event and there is no breach of the regulation.