(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Press Conference)
Shooting Allegation re-Cornelius John
I wish to speak first about the matter that is most on the minds of Vincentians. That is the alleged shooting and beating of Mr Cornelius John and the reported involvement of two senior public officials. This matter has been covered a lot in the local media, attracting front page attention in the papers. It has been the main topic of discussion on radio talk shows for several weeks and has even attracted regional attention.
Nevertheless, for completeness and context, I will summarize the allegations here. It is alleged that, on April 13th 2021, a local businessman named Cornelius John was brutally attacked and threatened at his home in Diamond by three assailants. It is further alleged that the assailants included two senior public officials: Senator and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Ms. Ashelle Morgan and Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Karim Nelson.
A third person remains unnamed to this day. That last bit of information is itself extraordinary. I say unnamed, not unidentified, because the circumstances as reported are such that the identity of the person ought to be known to authorities. Nevertheless, seven weeks after the incident reportedly occurred, that person has still not been named publicly, despite the existence of as I said, circumstances where that person should logically be known to the authorities.
It is alleged that Mr. John was kicked about his body, knocked to the ground, and shot in his leg by one of the assailants. It is further alleged that Senator Morgan pushed a gun in Mr. John’s face and threatened to shoot him if he mentioned her name. The alleged assailants then left Mr. John on the ground bleeding profusely from the wound in his leg.
Mr. John was reportedly assisted by neighbours and the police and taken to hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair his injured leg. He was discharged from hospital with his leg in a cast. He has not been able to work since being injured. We also know that the matter took two weeks to come to public attention, and this despite the fact that it had been reported to the police by Mr. John. The Commissioner of Police, Mr Colin John, confirmed publicly that the matter was under investigation by the police.
In a press conference last Friday afternoon, with his lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste present, Mr John restated his account of the incident, underscored his determination to seek justice in the case, and rejected any notion that money was offered to him by anyone to settle the matter or that he was giving up on the matter.
As Leader of the Opposition, I raised the matter in Parliament at the last meeting on May 11th and called on the Senator to absent herself from the House of Assembly or to be suspended from the House while the serious allegations involving her were under investigation by the police. The Speaker sought to stop me during my address and when I continued with my address, the Speaker suspended me from the House. In other words, I was kicked out of the House for raising the matter and for making the very reasonable demand that Senator Morgan absent herself or be suspended from the House while the serious allegations involving her were still under police investigation.
While the Speaker has the power to suspend a member from the House, in my view she should not have done so in that case. She should have exercised her discretion in a way that permitted and encouraged a full airing of the matter in the Parliament and that called on the Senator to go on leave while the serious allegations were under police investigation.
But this is not where the matter will end. It cannot be where it ends, because there has been no report from the police that the investigation is over and where the investigation leads. Mr. John, the complainant, has said he will not let it die at this point because he wants justice. Whoever injured him, he says, must be brought to justice.
But, I caution everyone, I urge everyone that we must not see this as purely a matter for or that concerns only the persons mentioned in connection with it. We as people who live in this country, must all be concerned about it. Justice is indivisible. It either exists or it does not. You cannot have a little justice, or partial justice, or justice for some and not for others. That would still amount to injustice. In other words when that exists, it amounts to a negation of justice.
This means that the allegations of the shooting and beating of Mr. John and the failure thus far to have a vigorous and transparent investigation transcend the individuals mentioned in connection with the incident. It is a serious challenge to and for the criminal justice system in this country.
As someone—an ordinary concerned citizen— asked me recently, rhetorically: “Do we have one law for some people and another for the rest of us?” As a lawmaker in this country, I would want to answer immediately and categorically: “NO”, to reinforce or restore his confidence in the system.
However, the question underlies the concern that is widespread in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And that is, the fear that our country has descended to the low and dangerous level where the criminal justice system cannot be relied upon to do the right thing; where there is little or no confidence in the police including the Commissioner of Police, and in the DPP and the system in general to do the right thing: the right thing would be to uphold the rule of law and vigorously pursue justice in this and every matter that comes before them.