Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith.

Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, has expressed concern over what he says is a dangerous precedent being set by judicial officers as it pertains to the illegal entry of Venezuelan nationals within the borders of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Commissioner was commenting on a recent decision within the Judiciary, which saw 24 persons being reprimanded and discharged, rather than being fined or imprisoned, as obtains in the law.

“There is far too much liberty being afforded by judicial officers to the illegal Venezuelan entrants which permeate our borders, without any form of redress for their misdeeds, and who are likely to be bringing the Covid-19 virus to our shores,” the Police Commissioner says in an official statement on the matter.

According to Commissioner Griffith, “there appears to be no deterrent factor being advanced by the judicial system and this can be tantamount to creating an open invitation for non-nationals to enter T&T illegally without fear of fine, imprisonment or repatriation.”

The Commissioner states his mandate, under the law, is to protect the citizens of the country—and during the current pandemic, “the country’s immune system”—within the confines of national laws.  He also states that the judicial system has a mandate to issue penalties upon those who wish to disregard these laws.

“It is distressing to note that in the time of a pandemic, where the resources of this country are limited, that every integral part of this country’s “immunity” is not working in harmony for the protection of its people,” Commissioner Griffith argues.

He adds: “Every facet of the law must act robustly to enforce the Laws and Regulations in place to create an effective deterrent to those who wish to flout the protective measures taken by our government, especially in light of the sharp increase in the number of persons infected with Covid-19.”

The top cop references the Immigration Act, specifically Chap 18:01 Section 40, as being critical to protecting the country during the current pandemic.

The Act states: “Any person who—

(a) comes into Trinidad and Tobago at any place other than a port of entry and fails to report to an immigration officer for examination; is liable on summary conviction for a first offence to a fine of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) and to imprisonment for three years, and on any subsequent conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars and to imprisonment for five years.”

Commissioner Griffith notes that 12 persons have been convicted of aiding and abetting Venezuelans to arrive through the illegal ports—four Venezuelans, one Nigerian, a national of the Dominican Republic and six Trinidadians.

“They were each fined $1,500 although they could have been fined up to $50,000,” he points out.  “Under Proceeds of Crime Act, the TTPS can seize the vehicles used in the transportation of these illegal immigrants.”

The Commissioner also cites the Public Health Ordinance, Chapter 12:04 of 1917, which is the primary legislation being used by the government in the declaration of COVID-19 as an infectious disease and a threat to the public’s health.

“Pursuant to Section 105 of the said Public Health Ordinance, the Government of this country made regulations for the purpose of protection of its populace during these tumultuous times,” he explains.

Commissioner Griffith highlights specifically Regulations 10 and 14 of the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV] (No. 10) Regulations, which state that,

10. All air and sea ports or any place where an aircraft or ship or vessel can land shall, except in relation to air and sea cargo, remain closed to the arrival or departure of aircraft or ships or other vessels carrying passengers unless permitted by the Minister with responsibility for national security…

14. A person who contravenes regulations 3 to 5, 8, 10 and 13 commits and offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and to imprisonment for six months.