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Parliament eager to clear national heroes of criminal record

Published:Thursday | October 13, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Olivia Grange

BOTH SIDES of the political divide in Gordon House coalesced yesterday around a major effort to blot out the criminal records of Jamaica's notable freedom fighters and national heroes who, in some instances, were severely punished centuries ago for what was deemed to be acts of rebellion or treason, which then, attracted the ultimate penalty of death.

The thrust to clear the names of at least 1,000 freedom fighters, including four national heroes, is already far down the wicket, with draft legislation at an advanced stage.

Minister of Culture Olivia 'Babsy' Grange told The Gleaner yesterday that the draft law would shortly be taken to the legislative committee of Cabinet for perusal and then presented to the full Cabinet for approval before being ushered into Parliament for tabling and subsequent debate.

An enthusiastic Grange said every effort was being made to take the 'expungement' bill to Parliament in short order.

 

Tacky's name to be cleared

 

Topping the list of hundreds of persons whose criminal records are to be expunged are Jamaica's first national heroes Marcus Mosiah Garvey, George William Gordon, Paul Bogle, and Samuel Sharpe. Jamaica's so-called ancestral hero, Tacky, is also among the top freedom fighters whose names are to be cleared by the Jamaican Parliament.

In a statement to Parliament yesterday, Grange said the Andrew Holness administration is taking immediate steps to enact law "that would once and for all set the record straight and ensure that justice is served for at least some of those who stood up for clearing the pathway to our modern democracy".

"The view has been widely held that the acts for which these national heroes were convicted were not criminal acts of rebellion or treason, but acts of liberation, with abundant moral justification carried out in the best tradition of humanity. Consequently, our heroes ought not to have the stain of a criminal conviction accompanying their role as national heroes."

Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller said she was delighted that Grange had brought this critical issue to the legislature.

Simpson Miller said the Parliamentary Opposition offered its full support to expunge the criminal records of Jamaica's national heroes.

Opposition Spokesman on Education Ronald Thwaites said the legislative move to clear the names of Tacky, Bogle, Gordon, and Sharpe was not because they are heroes, but because "all available evidence indicates that the criminal convictions against their name represent palpable injustice even at the time."

He made it clear that no one should believe that because "you are important that you can be absolved. What this Parliament is about to do as an act of vindication is to insist that the principles of justice must be maintained and that palpable miscarriage of justice must be corrected".