A senior Grenadian attorney has suggested that locals returning home during the coronavirus pandemic atmosphere can refuse to go into a government-assigned quarantine facility and choose their own home to self-isolate for the next 14 days.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY, the senior lawyer said that there is no law in Grenada on the books, which gives the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) the powers to force someone into quarantine.
The lawyer said that returning nationals cannot be lawfully prevented by the authorities from self-isolating at their own personal homes to avoid paying the exorbitant fees involved in those government-assigned hotels and guest houses.
“If you come into Grenada as a Grenadian and you want to go to your house they cannot force you to go into somebody else’s house and say you have to pay. They could try to do that but you don’t have to comply – you can go into your house,” he remarked.
The lawyer made the comment against the backdrop of reports coming out of Antigua that Prime Minister Gaston Browne has backed away from a government announced protocol that all incoming passengers will be tested for COVID-19 and placed in quarantine after he was threatened with lawsuits.
PM Browne told Antiguans that the protocol is being reviewed and his government will now require incoming passengers to be tested before travelling on the plane that flies them into Antigua & Barbuda.
According to the local lawyer, all the requirements outlined by the Mitchell government and the Police to deal with the coronavirus pandemic are not on the law books of the country but merely instructions of the Cabinet of Ministers.
He cited the absence of testing and quarantine requirements in the statutes and in any of the regulations that are announced by government.
He pointed out that in the Grenada situation, the Regulations merely provide some wide powers for Cabinet to give instructions and for the Police to make adjustments to these regulations but they cannot force anyone to take a mandatory test.
“So then (you) could just get up in the morning and say, look guys you have to take a test and there is no law that is saying that. Is there any regulation saying that (you have) to take a test? No. “That’s not lawful – you just can’t open up and tell police do what they want in their discretion. That’s not how law works.
“All that is happening is that tomorrow the Minister of Health comes up and gives instructions and say that you have to take a test and I am saying that is wrong. What is the power of the protocol? Is the protocol a law? What is the law on which the protocol is based? What is the statute upon which the protocol is based?
According to the lawyer these are the issues, which need to be addressed and answered by the government in the fight against the virus.
He said: “And even if there is a statute or regulation and it is saying that you have to take a test, I still have a reservation with respect that you can force somebody to take a test. Can you force somebody to take a test? Can you force somebody to take medication?
“The issue is if I am a Grenadian and I am coming home can you make taking a test the condition of me returning to my domicile – that is the other issue. I have a right to be in Grenada. I am repatriating to Grenada, I have a right to be here. Can you force me to take a test? And tell me – my refusal to take a test deprives me of my heritage in Grenada? You can’t put conditions on my repatriating – that’s where I belong,” he added.
On the issue of the about turn in Antigua by Prime Minister Browne on the testing and quarantine protocol, the lawyer stated that the authorities there are apparently trying to shift these requirements to the foreign country and to make it an immigration issue.
According to the lawyer, he senses that Prime Minister Browne “is taking the safer way out” by putting the onus on the authorities on the other side to put systems in place to facilitate travel.
He said that PM Browne shifted it to the other end of the spectrum where he is moving in the direction of making a law to the effect that passengers will not be allowed to enter the country if they did not do a test, which is a different issue now.
“Here’s the trick – even if I am an Antiguan and I am in the U.S, and you go through the proper channels … because you are not a United States citizen, the U.S government has the power to tell you that you can’t get on a flight without taking a test,” he said.
This, he added is the strategy behind the Antigua move and it can work as its citizens cannot go around U.S regulations governing admittance on a plane to fly out of the country.
“You don’t have no right at that point because you are not an American. You’re out in the open – you are going on a plane that is in America and America is saying that a condition for entering a plane is that you take a test. That is how Antigua is doing it now.
“And what are you going to do? You can say well am not taking no test and they will say, well ok you can’t go on the plane. So it’s your option – you do what you want.
The attorney noted that the protocol of the airline can now come into play because they are free to do to adopt measures to determine who can and who cannot fly on their planes.
He said the airlines have some principles under which they run their businesses for health purposes and if you fail to comply then “you don’t enter the plane to go to Antigua”.
The lawyer recalled the position adopted by the late Derek Knight, an attorney-at-law who served as Minister without Portfolio under the 1976-79 labour party government who always refused to fill out any Immigration form on arrival at the local airport from an overseas trip.
Knight had often argued that he has a right to be in Grenada and the authorities cannot make signing the Immigration form a prerequisite to be admitted into one’s homeland.