By Arthur Kellick
The Electronics Crime Bill is now the law of the land of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique subject to the affirmation of the Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenade.
Arthur Kallick was born in Trinidad and lived in Grenada until he moved to Canada in the late 1980s after completing secondary school. He has a Master’s in family counselling and child physiology from the University of Toronto. He is now a freelance writer and has been living in Grenada for the past six years, and at present works with Caribbean Family Planning unit as a counsellor
There are many lessons to be drawn from the process that saw the enactment of this legislation. There is no doubt that legislation is required to deal with cyber crime, identity theft, child pornography and electronic stalking in this evolving electronic age. However, the Keith Mitchell-led administration again displayed its deceptive character by “slipping in” some aspects of the bill that will effectively hinder free expression and compromise legitimate political activity by those opposed to the NNP.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights says in Article 19:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without reference and to seek receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
The Grenada Constitution Order of 1973 states in Article 10 (1):
“Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons) and freedom from interference with his correspondence”
The government of Grenada removed “criminal libel” from the books in 2012, a move widely acclaimed by the regional and international press.
A barrage of criticism from the international press about aspects of the bill caused the prime minister to make a commitment to relook the offending sections. He said that no aspect of proposed legislation should “undermine or infringe public debate”. The Bill was passed unanimously in the Lower House and it seems that any amendment was left to the Upper House or Senate to effect. In the face of strong arguments by the independent and labour senators, not even a single line or even a comma was changed. The Keith Mitchell administration showed clearly that public opinion cannot stop them from passing any legislation that they choose to enact.
The president of the Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG) said that the legislation will only affect “a few people”. Who are these few? Some apologists for the NNP have said that the intention is noble and, now that Prime Minister Mitchell is “kinder and gentler”, there is nothing to worry about. It is a known fact that between intent and execution lies a shadow -- the human factor -- and therein lies the possibility of abuse and misuse.
There appears to be when reference is made to the “police” as distinct from “law enforcement agencies”. The legislation speaks to “law enforcement agencies” being able demand information from Digicel or LIME in respect to mobile communications between individuals without a warrant or a court order. This is frightening because that the politicians in the ministerial positions of the ministry of legal affairs or the ministry of national security will be in a position to so do. These positions are now occupied by Hon Elvin Nimrod and Prime Minister Mitchell. Can we trust that these individuals will not use these powers for their political benefit?
Hon Elvin Nimrod indicated that the law is intended to protect citizens against defamatory remarks on social media sites. The draconian nature of the law is seen in section 6(1). The penalty for posting information that is “grossly offensive or has a menacing character” on social media is a fine of $100,000 or imprisonment of up to one year.
How do one define “offensive” in law when it is extremely difficult to gauge that phenomenon from one individual to the next. Lawyers may well have a field day arguing on the demerits of the law and how it violates the fundamental rights of citizens.
The Act goes further to state that its application can apply to persons “visiting or staying in transit” in Grenada. Visitors beware!
The stark truth is that the misuse or abuse by the NNP of its monopoly in the parliament can have dire consequences for the stability of the country and the exercise of freedom of expression in the country. The Electronic Crimes Act is the first of many.