Popular attorney says referendum vote ‘was a rejection of emancipation’

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CANA is reporting that the former chairman of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) says St. Vincent and the Grenadines “practically abolished emancipation” when voters on the Caribbean island rejected changes to the Constitution more than a decade ago.

Speaking on his weekly television programme, “The Law and You”, Queen’s Counsel Parnell Campbell joined in the debate regarding the government’s decision to install a new Governor General on August 1, observed here as Emancipation Day.

Critics argue that the day commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people of African descent and have pointed to the irony of the Queen’s representative being installed on that day.

On November 25, 2009, voters here overwhelmingly rejected proposed changes to the constitution that the island had received when it gained independence from Britain on October 27, 1979.

Campbell, chaired the CRC that conducted a years-long review of the Constitution, but with elections looming, the exercise descended into partisan politics with the government refusing to budge on key proposals that citizens felt strongly about. The parliamentary opposition withdrew its support for the exercise and campaigned against it.

In the referendum, held one year before the general election, the government received 55.29 per cent of the ballots cast when 66.6 per cent was needed which political observers said was a verdict on the Ralph Gonsalves government rather than on the proposed changes to the nation’s supreme law.

“The majority of the electorate of this country, on the 25th of November 2009 practically abolished emancipation when they rejected the attempt, among other things, to remove the monarchy from the headship of the state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and voted in no uncertain terms to keep her majesty The Queen,” said Campbell, a former attorney general.

“The choice was given, a new constitution was proposed, albeit repeating many of the clauses of the old constitution but bringing in a number of new institutions, particularly attempting to move us away from the queen to a republican form of government where we would have been headed, as head of state, by a home-grown president. The people said we want to keep the queen and to me, that was a rejection of emancipation.

The people refused to be liberated from colonialism and when they voted to keep the existing constitution instead of the new one we were proposing, then, to me, the people signalled by their majority that they like it so, in the words of King Nelson,” Campbell said, adding that the present constitution makes it clear where the island stands in regard to the monarch.

Campbell said he was surprised that “distinguished persons could write in the newspaper doubting that Queen Elizabeth the Second is Queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

Former permanent secretary, Lanceford Weekes, on a radio programme recently, maintained that while she is the same person, Queen Elizabeth II, sovereign of the United Kingdom, is different from Queen Elizabeth II, sovereign of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Campbell said that is not the case, noting that the Constitution states in section 19: “There shall be a Governor-General of Saint Vincent who shall be appointed by Her Majesty and shall hold office during Her Majesty’s pleasure and who shall be Her Majesty’s representative in Saint Vincent.”

Campbell further quoted section 23, which states” There shall be a Parliament of Saint Vincent which shall consist of Her Majesty and a House of Assembly.”

He noted that each session of Parliament begins with the Sergeant-at-Arms bringing in the mace, signifying the presence of the Queen in the chamber and that section 50 states “The executive authority of Saint Vincent is vested in Her Majesty.

“So that it is idle to pretend that we are not part of Her Majesty’s dominion. She is queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Queen Elizabeth II of Windsor, the House of Windsor, and of the United Kingdom is also Queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I don’t know how anyone who has access to our constitution could say otherwise,’ Campbell said, pointing out that the proposed constitution would have replaced the queen as the nation’s head of state.

Section 49 of the rejected constitution had stated: “There shall be an office of president of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The president shall be the head of state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

He said that in section 102(1) of the proposed constitution, it stated, “The executive authority of St. Vincent and the Grenadines shall be vested in the president, who, by section 49 of this constitution, shall be the head of State of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Campbell reiterated that when given a chance to remove the monarch, Vincentians refused.

“We said we like it so. We want to keep Queen Elizabeth II. So what are we fretting that her representative was sworn in on Emancipation Day. What is so sacred about emancipation day after we reject the concept of getting rid of colonialism in November 2009?”

A “yes” vote would have also replaced the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), making it the island’s highest and final court.

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