Trinidad: No rush to charge 8-year-olds without masks

(Trinidad Guardian) Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith says the T&T Police Service does not intend to go on a rampage ticketing children eight years and over who are not wearing face masks in public to protect against the COVId-19 virus.

He made the comment yesterday, hours after Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the CoP would most likely attempt to bring some clarity on how the TTPS plans to enforce the new mask-wearing law, especially as it pertains to children eight years and above, at the TTPS’ weekly media briefing today.

Speaking to Guardian Media last evening, however, Griffith said enforcement of the new law, especially as it affects children, will be about persuading them to do the right thing for his officers. He said they were fully aware that a thousand-dollar fine is a hefty penalty and they will be primarily focused on people acting responsibly.

Griffith said patrols over the last 48 hours had mostly found people abiding by the new mandate to wear masks. But he noted that the police cannot issue any tickets currently as they have not yet been issued with the ticket books to do so. Saying he expects this will be rectified by tomorrow, Griffith said his officers will use moral suasion until then.

Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew earlier yesterday, meanwhile, AG Al-Rawi said Government was left with no choice but to include children in the legislation. But he said it is now the law and must be enforced for the greater good.

“People have made it a bit of a laughing matter to the point that you are looking at an eight-year-old, I’ve seen some of the comments,” Al-Rawi said.

“What do you do? As a legislator, everywhere around the world this standard exists, including a direct charge. Question, do you have capacity at law to charge a child; yes, do you have a specialist court for a child; yes, do you want to charge a child; no.”

As it relates to exemptions for other reasons, the AG said people who are so inclined should keep the necessary documentation handy to show to an enquiring police officer. He, however, expressed confidence that law enforcement officers will manage the situation well.

“The officer has to have a degree of discretion. It really is quite simple, you ought not to have yourself in public without a mask unless you have a very good reason for it and you can satisfy the reasonable enquiries of a policeman or a policewoman as to why you are not wearing a mask.”

The law was passed on Saturday in the Senate having been passed the day before in the Lower House and has been assented to by President Paula-Mae Weekes.

Under the new law, citizens will be given fixed penalty fines for a breach, starting at $1,000 for a first offence and going to as much as $20,000 for more serious breaches.

Since the revelation that children eight and up will be included in the net of persons who can be charged, many have been expressing concern that it seems harsh.

“So far, the responses have been mixed. Some parents are questioning the rationale of such a decision and feel that it is a draconian measure which is being implemented while continuing to ignore the illegality of PH drivers, which has existed for years,” Trini Moms administrator, Michelle Foreman, said on one social media platform yesterday.

When COVID-19 first hit T&T earlier this year, Government and health officials had appealed for the public to start wearing masks. However, with a recent upsurge following a second wave which resulted in community spread and more deaths, the decision was made to make mask-wearing law. Several rollback measures aimed at reducing spread remain in place until September 12, 2020.

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