(L-R): Timothy Poleon; Lorne Theophilus; and Claudius Francis
By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- If the cap fits, wear it, is an expression used to tell someone that, if they think a remark or criticism of them is true, they should accept it – advice that a Saint Lucian attorney has apparently given two of his clients, both of whom are well known public officials in the island.
Duane Jean Baptiste of Amicus Law Chambers, representing Lorne Theophilus, Saint Lucia’s minister of tourism, heritage and creative industries, and Claudius Francis, the president of the Saint Lucia senate, has written to local broadcaster Timothy Poleon regarding an article originally published by Caribbean News Now on September 25, 2013 (the article
According to Baptiste, Poleon read the article in its entirety on his radio programme (Newspin) and, further that the article as read contained the following words, which, he asserts, were defamatory of Theophilus and Francis:
"No reason has been given by the US government for the apparent disparity in the treatment of Frederick, which was based entirely on hearsay and innuendo and apparently fabricated allegation, contrasted to the continued ability of two prominent Saint Lucian government officials to enter the US and effectively travel freely and with immunity/impunity on diplomatic passports when they have a known history of violent sexual assault."
Baptiste claims that, although Theophilus and/or Francis were not specifically mentioned, it is clear that the words complained of would reasonably lead people acquainted with them to the conclusion that they were the individuals referred to. This, Baptiste states, is buttressed by the specific references to Theophilus and/or Francis by callers to Poleon’s programme, which were in no way discouraged by him (Poleon).
Baptiste asserts that these allegations are completely untrue and constitute a grave libel of Theophilus and Francis. The natural and ordinary meaning of these words, which are claimed to be highly defamatory of his clients, Baptiste says, is that they (Theophilus and Francis) are violent sexual offenders, which in fact constitutes criminal conduct and, as a result, their reputation has been substantially harmed and they have been embarrassed by Poleon’s allegedly defamatory words.
Consequently, Theophilus and Francis require Poleon to take a number of steps, including a public retraction and apology; a written undertaking not to repeat the publication of these or similar allegations concerning Theophilus and Francis; payment of legal costs; and payment of compensatory damages.
Our original article referred only to unnamed “prominent Saint Lucian government officials” with “a known history of violent sexual assault” but now Baptiste himself has associated this with (in his words) “criminal conduct” by Theophilus and/or Francis, each as a “violent sexual offender” (again, Baptiste’s own words).
In other words, Baptiste himself has specifically characterised his own clients in ways in which an article that never mentioned them by name could never do.
Our original article never claimed that Theophilus or Francis (or anyone else for that matter) was an offender convicted of “criminal conduct” (Baptiste’s words).
However, Baptiste’s premise that Theophilus and Francis are the unnamed “prominent Saint Lucian government officials” may be based on the existence of online public material in relation to his clients that Baptiste and/or his clients might regard as relevant pointers, namely:
Two St Lucian Gov ministers are violent sexual predator
The St Lucia Labour Party’s Dark Star
(caution: graphic and explicit contents
Richard Frederick Strikes Back!
St. Lucia sexual predators allow entry into US by State Department
A government of criminals!
Amnesia and political obsession
Appeal Court judgment
(page 3, para 6)
It is not clear how much more harm and/or embarrassment Theophilus and/or Francis could have suffered as a result of not
being named in the original article compared to the online material easily accessible to the entire world that actually names them.
It is also not known what steps, if any, Theophilus and/or Francis have taken, in a similar manner to Baptiste’s letters to Poleon, to deal with such explicit reports published online, if indeed they regard such reports as defamatory.
In characterising Theophilus and Francis each as an “offender”, which is a term presumably used in a criminal sense rather than merely hurting someone’s feelings, it seems that Baptiste has made a leap from unspecified “known history” of an unnamed individual to public reports actually identifying his clients.
According to an expert in defamation law, in attempting to identify his clients as the unnamed persons referred to, Baptiste appears mistakenly to conflate the terms “known history” with some kind of actual criminal record and “violent sexual assault” with a criminal offence.
It turns out that, history, in the sense of past events, or an interesting or colourful past, is in fact well known in this case, in that it is a matter of public record that Theophilus and Francis have both been arrested and charged with rape. It would seem that in each case the matter was settled “out of court”.
It goes without saying that charges and allegations contained in complaints or indictments are merely accusations, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Furthermore, violence in a sexual context does not necessarily connote criminal conduct. Indeed, some couples relish it as part of their sexual proclivities.
Thus, Baptiste, representing Theophilus and Francis, has effectively taken responsibility on behalf of his clients for criminal offences that were never mentioned or alleged in the original article. In the words of one veteran law enforcement official, “Theophilus and Francis have snitched on themselves.”
While Theophilus and Francis appear to think that the paragraph in question in our original article is all about them, in fact, it concerned official action taken against former housing minister Richard Frederick based upon pure hearsay without a shred of evidence to support it. The actions by Theophilus and Francis now also serve to highlight what some local observers are characterising as the hypocritical nature of their complaints about a self-imputed inference to known events and facts compared to the unfounded and baseless assault on Frederick’s character.
Meanwhile, the letter to Poleon and earlier threats of similar action by another minister, Phillip La Corbiniere, are widely perceived locally and internationally to be an attempt to restrict the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution of Saint Lucia.
Since Saint Lucia is already under a cloud, as demonstrated by the recent suspension of security-related aid by the US based upon human rights abuses, such attempts to muzzle the press are doubtless not going to be viewed favourably as and when the government tries to convince the US State Department that it is doing its best to correct such abuses.
One US government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, characterised this as conduct typical of communist-trained socialist governments throughout the region and beyond.
“In 25 years of observing such governments around the world, intimidation and manipulation of the press is standard practice,” he said.
He also referred specifically to the words of President Barack Obama: “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed… These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”
A local attorney in Saint Lucia put it thus: "Whilst the St Lucia Labour Party is well known for issuing reckless and totally fabricated statements in the local press against its opponents, its members show a total lack of tolerance for free speech. In the heat of the 2011 General Elections, Dr Kenny Anthony informed the nation via electronic media that Richard Frederick's visas had been revoked because he was found carrying a briefcase of money in the United States! This is the same Doctor Anthony who sued Dr Vaughan Lewis when Dr Lewis had accused him of being responsible for the disappearance of a brief case of money! It seems to me that Saint Lucia is gradually becoming engulfed by the protoplasm of communism. We are a people under subjection, we are afraid to speak for fear of litigation, whilst those who threaten our freedom of speech are the same ones who insult our intelligence with the proliferation of senseless propaganda. May God help Saint Lucia!"
The United Workers Party (UWP) said it is not surprised by the recent legal actions initiated by the leadership of the Labour Party and that the evidence points to a clear and continued pattern to oppress and intimidate the media.
“This Labour Party government is openly demonstrating its disregard for the rights of freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution… This is clearly a ‘cop out’ and an act of cowardice,” the UWP said.
The UWP had issued an earlier statement
expressing its full support for Poleon.
The Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) said it was very difficult to understand why anyone would take ownership of allegations that do not mention them by name, since none of the complainants were identified in the story.
“The story, as we understand it from the perspective of the LPM, should have been dealt with by the government of Saint Lucia, and not by individuals associated with the government. The primary questions which were raised in the article is whether the revocation of Richard Frederick's visa had anything to with the US action against Saint Lucia, and whether officials in the government ignored a request to meet with representatives of the US government by a specific date, to discuss the matter,” the LPM added.
Since the UWP and the LPM issued extensive statements on the matter, these are covered in a separate story
The prime minister’s press secretary did not respond substantively to a request for comment.