WE-Change I WOMANTRA I MIND WISE
Across the region, women’s rights activists are collectively concerned with the case involving Yugge Farrell unfolding in the Kingston Magistrate Court in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Though we have all breathed a sigh of relief at the news of her grant of bail, there is an equally shared sense of outrage at the manner in which the case has been managed by the Magistrate’s Court up to this point.
We vehemently question the the circumstances surrounding a charge of abusive language that led to Yugge being committed to a mental health facility on the mere suggestion of the prosecution that she was unfit to plea after she had already supplied the court with a plea of not-guilty. It is true that Section 115 of the Criminal Procedure Code of St. Vincent empowers the court to detain individuals to inquire into the fact of unsoundness of mind where “the court has reason to believe the accused may be of unsound mind”. However, we strongly condemn the manner in which this power was
exercised. If on January 5, 2018 the Magistrate had believed the accused to be so affected, it must be asked why she was allowed to be arraigned in the first place. There also remains the question of whether due process was followed, if the Magistrate relied solely on the position of the prosecution; what justifiable “reason” can be given for this course of action when consideration is given to the fact that the prosecution provided no evidence to support its request?
It is with great concern that we also note what appears to be a disturbing pattern in our region of unlawfully detaining and vilifying women who challenge the state and its agents, with little regard for their human rights. One such incident that remains fresh in our collective consciousness is the incident dubbed #blackmailfriday in St. Lucia, in which blackmail charges were brought against 18-year-old, Curshaby Alexander, for allegedly leaking the nude images claimed to be of the MInister of Finance in the Office of the Prime Minister, Dr. Ubaldus Raymond. Of concern with this case is the failure by the state or otherwise to investigate or make any pronouncements on the nature of the relationship between an 18-year-old adolescent girl and a government minister. It is important to consider the vulnerability of young, adolescent girls in relationships that involve such differential power dynamics, where their ultimate safety and wellbeing is not sought and ensured, but is instead negated when the relationship becomes inconvenient. While it is not our position to support any criminal acts directed towards people in positions of power or otherwise, there is an element of forceful silencing that appears in cases of this nature. It is troubling that no alternative course of action was sought, including finding non-punitive measures of responding to the alleged indiscretion of a teenage girl.
Another distasteful instance of injustice, which almost perfectly mirrors this current incident, occurred in 2012 when Cheryl Miller was forcibly removed from her workplace at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development in Trinidad and Tobago by mental health officials. This was in response to what was described as an “outburst” in a heated exchange with a senior ministry official. Miller was detained at the St. Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital, where she spent 17 days before being released. Like Yugge, Cheryl was also allegedly administered strong antipsychotic medication against her will while in care. Upon demand, Cheryl was granted the right to seek an independent psychological evaluation—the same courtesy should be granted to Ms. Farrell, particularly considering the dubious circumstances under which she was arrested and detained.
Fortunately, justice was served in the case of Ms. Miller, who was successful in her pursuance of an unlawful imprisonment lawsuit against the North West Regional Health Authority. The invocation of Section 15 of the Mental Health Act used to justify her detainment was ruled to be unlawful and Miller was awarded $835,000 TTD in damages for the humiliation caused by the incident. Though monetary compensation does not right the wrong of injustice, Cheryl’s triumph over attempts to diminish her dignity stands testament to women’s resilience, which we hope Yugge can draw strength from in the coming weeks.
It is evident that across the region, we are unfamiliar with the process of upholding and ensuring the protection of human rights in cases involving marred private relationships between government officials and civilians. What is even more bothersome is the use of the stigmatised nature of mental illness as a tool of the state to inhumanely detain persons whose actions they deem inimical to their interests. The institutionalisation of persons considered a “threat” cannot be condoned, and is testament to the low regard in which mental illness is viewed regionally. Furthermore, the use of institutionalisation as a response to a petty misdemeanour is aberrant and inexcusable given the non-violent nature of the offence.
It is our firm conviction that Yugge, like all Vincentians, has a right to fair trial before an impartial tribunal as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. That these rights are being toyed with and young woman’s mental health is being endangered in the process is no simple matter. Women, the feminist community, and human rights defenders across the Caribbean are closely watching the further conduct of this case and stand ready to speak up at the slightest hint of malfeasance by any agent of the state.
The above statement is endorsed by the undersigned organizations and individuals:
Élysse Marcellin, Mental Health Advocate, Trinidad and Tobago
Erin Greene, Equality Bahamas, Bahamas
Nicole Hendrickson, Fire Circle, Trinidad and Tobago
Gabrielle Hosein (Dr.), Lecturer/Journalist, Trinidad and Tobago
Holly Bynoe, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Jessica Joseph, Creative Strategist, St. Lucia
Khafi Weekes, Consultant, Washington DC
Marsha Hinds-Layne, NOW, Barbados
Nailah John-Prince, President/Founder- Leave out Violence in SVG.
Paula Lindo, Trinidad and Tobago
Ronelle King, Life in Leggings, Barbados
Simone Leid, The WomenSpeak Project
Soyini Grey, Trinidad and Tobago
Stephanie Leitch, Gender Equality Advocate, Trinidad and Tobago
Tonya Haynes, Catch A Fyah Network, Regional