MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell in the House of Assembly.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday brushed off questions about his turnaround in position on the need for a constitutional amendment to remove discrimination based on sex.
In his arguments against the 2002 referendum, Mr Mitchell suggested that a referendum on gender equality was unnecessary because Article 15 of the Constitution already prohibited discrimination based on sex.
Excerpts of a speech Mr Mitchell - then in opposition - gave at the Fox Hill Parade on February 13, 2002 made its rounds on social media yesterday; however, when contacted for comment the Fox Hill MP said he had already spoken extensively on the matter.
“We are being deceived by the assertion by the government and Mr (Hubert) Ingraham that this referendum will settle issues of gender equality,” Mr Mitchell said in his 2002 Fox Hill speech.
“But the fact is that if you read Article 15 of the Constitution, it is clear that the fundamental rights provisions apply to all, regardless of sex or gender.
“If that is the case, and we know that it is, one must ask: Why is the prime minister dragging us through the expense of this general election?”
Yesterday, Mr Mitchell dismissed questions about his change of mind, saying, “With the greatest of respect, I don’t respond to foolishness.”
“Those who are circulating that old speech need to go get a life and while doing so vote ‘yes’ to the four questions as I shall be doing. I am doing door-to-door every day and telling my constituents to vote yes to all four questions.
“The asinine trolls on social media can take the hindmost. I put it politely because I am a public official. If I were on the park I would really tell them what they should do. You wouldn’t be able to print it.”
In a statement released later, Mr Mitchell said the old speech was being circulated by Free National Movement and Democratic National Alliance supporters.
The Progressive Liberal Party, then in opposition, campaigned heavily against 2002 referendum that dealt with gender equality among other issues.
In February 2002, after voting for the constitutional amendments in the House of Assembly, PLP Leader Perry Christie later withdrew his support for amendments to the Constitution and said if the referendum wasn’t cancelled or postponed he would be forced to vote “no.”
At the time, Mr Christie said that since the passage of the constitutional bills, it had become “painfully” apparent from private and public comments that the entire process was even more flawed and divisive than he could have fully appreciated at the time the bills were voted on.
He said he changed his mind on the referendum because the Ingraham administration did not consult with religious leaders before forging ahead.
The referendum ultimately failed. The PLP was voted into office after the May 2002 general election.
In 2012, Prime Minister Perry Christie defended his first administration’s decision to block the 2002 referendum although his government planned to bring the issue forward for a public vote this term.
He said his party disagreed with the process surrounding the 2002 vote, not the substantive issues.
Mr Christie added that his government’s decision to hold the referendum this term was not motivated solely by Bahamian public opinion, but growing international concerns of the country’s policies.
Several vote no campaigns have also pointed to Article 15 in their arguments against the fourth constitutional amendment, which seeks to remove discrimination based on sex.
Former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer also pointed to the provision when she told The Nassau Guardian that she thought the upcoming referendum was a “waste of time” and that she would vote against it if she casts a ballot.