By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A FORMER police constable has vowed to fight the government all the way to the Privy Council to get justice for being fired from the Royal Bahamas Police Force because of his unwillingness to compromise a key component of his Muslim faith.
Bertram Bain, in an interview with The Tribune, said he and his attorney Maria Daxon are still fighting former Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade's August 2017 decision to fire him for his unwillingness to shave his beard in accordance with the RBPF's grooming policies.
His comments came less than a month after he received a letter from the permanent secretary in the Ministry of the Public Service that stated that Governor General C A Smith advised that his appeal against Mr Greenslade's decision be "set aside" due to the expiration of his contract.
The November 15 letter further stated that Governor General Smith advised that Mr Bain will be "awarded" gratuity benefits for his 17 years of service to the police force, with effect from August 2, 2017, the date Mr Greenslade fired him.
The letter bore the signature of "M Hanlan", permanent secretary.
Mr Bain told The Tribune that in setting aside his appeal "due to the expiration of (his) contract", was not in line with the reason why he was fired -- which was because his "conduct and general character (had) been unsatisfactory". And in doing so, Mr Bain asserted that the Governor General effectively set aside Mr Greenslade's decision in its entirety.
As a result, Mr Bain posited that the proper course of action would have been to advise the commissioner of police to rescind Mr Greenslade's decision to fire him for failing to carry out a lawful order, and subsequently draft and serve him with a new discharge certificate.
"(Mr Greenslade) never discharged me for not having a contract, because I was still working and I had applied to be re-engaged," Mr Bain said. "So my intention was never to quit. And so now, if the Governor General is stating that I should remain discharged based on the fact that I don't have a contract. He has to show me that in law and give me a new discharge certificate and state where in the Constitution or the Police Act a police officer could be dismissed because they don't have a contract."
Meanwhile, Ms Daxon asserted the process that led to her client's termination was entirely "wrong in law". And as it pertains to the letter from the Ministry of the Public Service, she questioned whether Governor General Smith actually had any say in drafting the letter, and if he did, why his signature wasn't attached.
Ms Daxon further asserted that in any event, the Governor General has no authority to "advise" on such matters, but must take the relevant instructions from the Police Service Commission. She referred to various sections in the Police Act, the Constitution, and the Police Service Regulations to support her argument.
"Nothing in law gives the Governor General the authority to advise anybody," she asserted. "The Governor General must go on instructions or recommendations from the Police Service Commission."
Ms Daxon said in light of the government's latest move, she and her client will petition the Public Service Board of Appeal to seek some redress. She further stated that she has sought advice from two local Queen's Counsels on the matter, both of whom she said are prepared to lend their assistance, and both of whom said that "this whole entire procedure was wrong in law".
"They looked at the law and stated that 'no, they had no grounds to do what they did,'" Ms Daxon said.
She added: "This matter needs to be addressed right away. It is unfair for police officers in this day and time in this country, with the laws that are in place, and cannot get justice in a timely fashion in this country.
"So we are moving on. My client is very adamant. He is saying to me that he wants justice, he doesn't want it to happen to anybody else. And if we have to go all the way to the Privy Council for them to address it, my client is willing to do so."
Meanwhile, Mr Bain said dealing with all of the legal hurdles for two years and counting has proven to be a challenge, but a "necessary" process nonetheless.
"I think for me it's a tiring one, but it's a needed one," he said. "While I'm affected by it in many ways, my hope is that after this process, somebody else won't have to go through this experience, because it's a needed one. When the last defence of our country which is the law, when that crumbles, then what is it that we have forward to look to?"
Previously, The Tribune exclusively reported how a copy of Mr Bain's discharge certificate showed that in August 2, 2017, the officer of 17 years was discharged from the RBPF "in accordance with Section 7 (c) of the Police Disciplinary Regulations No 1965 and Section 21 (1)(c) of the Police Force Act 2009."
The discharge certificate noted that during his tenure with the RBPF, Mr Bain's "conduct and general character has been unsatisfactory". Mr Bain first joined the RBPF in 2000, and converted to Islam sometime in 2011.
However, according to court documents seen by The Tribune, Mr Bain claimed his dismissal was the end result of his multiple attempts at having Mr Greenslade acquiesce to his pleas to adhere to the Muslim practice of not shaving one's beard while serving as a member of the RBPF.
According to an affidavit filed July 6, 2016, which lists Mr Greenslade as one of seven defendants, Mr Bain met with the former commissioner and/or other senior officials no less than three times on the matter, dating as far back as early 2015. And each time the relevant parties met, Mr Bain informed all present of his Muslim faith, according to the affidavit.
In one such instance, on June 10, 2016, Mr Bain said he "humbly requested Mr Greenslade to assist with some accommodation to Muslim practices to wear a beard." In the affidavit, Mr Bain said he did so "with humility and out of respect to consider awareness of my constitutional rights, and status as a police officer and as a Muslim."
This represented an immediate conflict, Mr Bain acknowledged in a previous interview with The Tribune.
According to the affidavit, Mr Bain reported to the maintenance section of police headquarters from early 2015 to mid-2016, an area he suggested was more accommodating of his Muslim faith due to the 'back of the house' nature of the job and it not requiring him to be in standard police uniform.
However, on June 21, 2016, Mr Bain said he was instructed by Mr Greenslade to report to police headquarters, where he was informed by the former police chief that he would be transferred from the maintenance section to the Elizabeth Estates Police Station, and thus required to be in uniform.
According to the affidavit, from that date up to June 23, 2016, Mr Bain was informed by three separate senior police officers that he had "defaulted" for either not complying with a "lawful order" to shave his beard, or not shaving while in uniform.
Two tribunals later, both of which he said he was found guilty for his refusal to shave his beard, Mr Bain said he was officially discharged from the RBPF.