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Human Rights Act amendment will lead to a fairer, more inclusive Bermuda

Bermuda’s Premier Craig Cannonier
Bermuda’s Premier Craig Cannonier

By Premier Craig Cannonier

I regret that my trip to London this week means I will not be in the House of Assembly today to debate the proposed amendments to the Human Rights Act.

This is an important Bill because it speaks to the kind of Bermuda we must build toward — free of discrimination, with all citizens equal before the law.

The following is a summary of the speech I had prepared for today’s debate, which will be led by my colleague the Hon R Wayne Scott, Minister for Community and Cultural Affairs. I want to thank The Royal Gazette for providing me the space to do so.

 

Mr Speaker,

There come times in the life of a country when its people have the opportunity to decide what kind of future they want; to build toward something better, to expand freedom, to better protect one another, to leave behind what was not working; to correct a historic wrong or make good an oversight.

The legislation before the House today is one of those opportunities.

The Human Rights Amendment Act contains provisions that will, in effect, prohibit discrimination against anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation

It will prohibit discrimination on the basis of age in the provision of goods, services, facilities and accommodation, and

It will ensure the protection of fair treatment for a woman whether she is, or may become, pregnant.

The legislation is in line with founding principles of the One Bermuda Alliance; principles that call for

- Unfettered access to opportunity.

- Inclusiveness — bringing us closer together as one people, one Bermuda.

- And fairness — for non-discrimination, equal rights and equality before the law.

These principles guide our actions because we believe Bermuda’s success lies in providing its people with all the freedom they need to live their lives to the best of their ability, to the fullest.

That cannot happen if we allow discrimination to continue in any form.

In the 2011 Throne Speech Reply, I signalled what we were about:

“We will not leave anyone behind,” I said. “We will eliminate all forms of discrimination. We will end the politics of division and show Bermuda there is a better way. That is where our future lies.”

And during the election campaign, I stated repeatedly that the OBA was about building a society that made it possible for all Bermudians to achieve economic and social equity, leaving no one behind.

Our goal is to take Bermuda to a point that makes it possible for everyone, every child to succeed to the full extent of his God-given potential;

To empower each and every one of us with equal opportunity, equal possibility; to live complete lives, to fulfil the promise of the better Bermuda we think and talk about so much.

As Premier of Bermuda, I will not rest without doing what I can to make that possible for every one of our citizens.

Mr. Speaker,

There has been much debate about the provision to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation … for years!

We understand the concerns in the community, but we also have to be clear on what this Bill is all about.

Rev Nicholas Tweed, pastor of St Paul AME Church, had it right when he told his congregation a few weeks ago that everybody’s human rights should be protected.

“The criteria for being protected,” he said, “are not really whether you are black, white, gay [or] straight … the criteria is that if you are human, you ought to be protected …”

This is a point everyone must keep in mind:

The amendment to prohibit discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation is not about endorsing any kind of lifestyle. It is simply about protecting fellow citizens from mistreatment by others. It is about preventing injustice and it is about ensuring equal rights before the law — something everyone would want for themselves.

Rev. Tweed continued, noting the “strange irony” that folks who had been victims of discrimination for more than 300 years should be talking about “who shouldn’t be in.”

Mr. Speaker,

If Bermuda is to succeed for all its people, we need to be willing to apply the lessons of our past to build a better future.

That is something, I’m sure, all of us can understand.

It is unacceptable that a country such as Bermuda, with its history, should allow any form of discrimination to continue. This legislation will broaden the foundation of our freedom, helping us build toward a model society in which we are all of us equal before the law.

The time to act is now.

Bermuda cannot continue to passively allow discrimination in any form to continue. It is an affront to the dignity of the individual; it dishonours the lessons of our history and spoils the promise of our future.

To those who have to think about whether or not to support this measure, I urge them to walk in another person’s shoes, to try to see things from another person’s perspective, to learn what you need to learn — which is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Mr Speaker,

We will be a stronger, healthier and more peaceful society if we embrace the compassion and empathy that comes from understanding other people.

Bermuda must be about freedom and tolerance. We must be about equality and fair play. We must be about giving each and every one of our fellow Bermudians an equal chance for the best opportunities.

The Human Rights Amendment Act helps clear the path to equality, for an open field and fair chance for all in the race of life.

We cannot continue with gaps in the law that are used to keep people down.

If the laws of the land allow discrimination to take place then we must change them. For us as legislators responsible for the well-being of all our people, these changes are a moral imperative.

If we cannot be a society that guarantees all its citizens equality before the law, then we fail ourselves and our history.

We must be a society of inclusion, not denial. We must be about lifting people up, not keeping them down.

The task before us today is simple: pass this legislation to help us create a fairer, more inclusive Bermuda, with unfettered access to opportunity for all. That’s the Bermuda we are trying to build.

Source: The Royal Gazette

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