By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
It may be timely to remind ourselves of legislation that exists in T&T to deal with various kinds of discrimination. I am also an attorney-at-law and Lay Assessor on the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT).
The Equal Opportunity Act, Ch 22:03, prohibits certain kinds of discrimination and seeks to promote equal opportunity between persons of different status. The Act covers four categories of discrimination—employment, education, the provision of goods and services and the provision of accommodation, if the discrimination is: (i) discrimination on the ground of status as defined in section 5; or (ii) discrimination by victimisation as defined in section 6; (b) offensive behaviour referred to in section 7.
‘Status’, in relation to a person, means— (a) the sex; (b) the race; (c) the ethnicity; (d) the origin, including geographical origin; (e) the religion; (f) the marital status; or (g) any disability of that person.” These are all protected under the Act.
Since the Act and the Commission and Tribunal established by it are the first of their kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, and since the general public in T&T may not be fully aware of the consequences of breaching the law in this area, I recommend a reading of the Act and of the judgements handed down by the EOT since 2016.
In October 2018, Chair of the EOT, Madam Justice Donna Prowell-Raphael, issued a media release which stated:
“The EOT is a superior court of record with similar status to that of the High Court and the Industrial Court, with powers to impose fines, make orders for compensation and grant injunctions to persons who feel they are being discriminated against. The tribunal is not the same as, or a part of, the Equal Opportunity Commission. Its functions are judicial, and are independent and distinct from the conciliatory role and functions of the commission.
“The commission receives complaints of discrimination for conciliation under the act. Complaints that cannot be resolved by conciliation or remain unresolved after conciliation can be referred by the commission to the tribunal for judicial adjudication and determination.”
Values and principles
In an ideal world, we would not need such legislation. Oh for the day when we could live in peace and harmony and respect the inherent dignity of each person!
Since the reality is somewhat different, I simply wish to remind those who are bent on discriminating against others in relation to employment, education, the provision of goods and services and the provision of accommodation, in any of the seven status areas listed above, that persons affected have redress, for example, via the EOC and the EOT.
Vatican News reported that in September 2018, Pope Francis “reflected on how, in our globalized world, there appears to be an upsurge of ‘feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity’ and, as such—he said—considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society’s life’. Such sentiments, he warned, ‘all too often inspire real acts of intolerance, discrimination or exclusion…we are all called, in our respective roles, to cultivate and promote respect for the intrinsic dignity of every human person’.”
There are laudable values and principles outlined in the Preamble of T&T’s Constitution, and in our National Anthem. Yet there still exists systemic discrimination and victimisation in some of the seven status areas listed above.
And we must do more to eliminate offensive behaviour (see Section 7 of the Equal Opportunity Act). Maya Angelou wrote: “In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.” Let’s embrace our diversity and build community.
Let’s resolve also not to trample on the rights of others by discriminating against them. We have a duty to promote right relationships between all individuals and groups in our society. Love will help us to find unity in our diversity.
Let’s commit to promote values such as love, integrity, discipline, production, tolerance, responsibility, hospitality, courage, and compassion/respect for the dignity of each person. These are values that will inspire us as we seek to build a nation in which human rights are respected.
Pope Francis’ 2015 Independence Day message to us in T&T is noteworthy. He said: “In commending Trinidad and Tobago to the merciful love of Almighty God, I pray that all may continue to work together for a peaceful society based on solidarity and justice.”
SOCIAL JUSTICE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“Peace is like… a delicate flower struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence. We know that the thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice. Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction.” (2)
Pope Francis, 52nd World Day of Peace 2019
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee