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Is Wearing Face Masks an Instrument of Oppression?

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By Neela Ramsundar

WORLDWIDE the year 2020 has seen unprecedented measures being used to combat Covid-19.

Many involve curtailing essential human civil liberties, such as freedom of movement being restricted with country-wide lockdowns.

Wearing facemasks in public and social distancing are now called “the new normal”.

Various countries around the world differ in their approach, but a big question I am going to delve into today, specifically with facemasks, is at what point does the state cross the line into oppression?

From last Monday, the 58th anniversary of our Independence, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GoTT) made it mandatory that facemasks be worn outside your home. For now, if you’re caught breaching this law, you will be issued a ticket to pay $1,000 on your first offence, $2,000 on your second and $3,000 on your third offence.

But here’s the kicker: the Minister of National Security Stuart Young, is on record stating that mandatory mask wearing applies even when you are inside your private motor vehicle with your family! Minister Young justifies this move by essentially stating it’s too difficult for the police to figure out who are family members in a private vehicle and who are passengers being illegally transported for hire in a private car…

Now let me make this abundantly clear. I am 200% in support of using not just any facemasks, but properly worn, properly fitted and properly designed facemasks, when it comes to safeguarding myself and the public from transmission of Covid-19.

However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a point where a line can be crossed. In this country we subscribe to a very important principle of law, that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. PH drivers who ply their cars for hire are engaging in an illegal act. So, to have the police automatically assume I’m a PH car for hire engaged in breaking the law when my family members are in my car with me, is offensive.

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Many countries around the world have legislated wearing facemasks as mandatory outside the home, but in accordance with guidance from medical experts, very few, if any, have made it an offence to wear facemasks when driving solo, or with members of the same household in your private car. The reason is simple. Members of the household usually don’t wear facemasks around each other in the home, so the same practice would apply in their car.

Citizens have been complaining about many laws (such as the recent U-Turn traffic regulations) seeming to be geared more towards gaining revenue for the State than anything else. When family members in their private cars are ticketed for not wearing facemasks, time will tell if this law will come to be viewed in the same light.

It’s no secret too that citizens are very wary of the police. The recent riots in Port-of-Spain and many widely circulated videos of police officers possibly abusing their powers are fresh in many minds. Putting our very necessary but overworked police force in a situation where they may be reluctant, but mandated to enforce unconscionable or irrational laws, does not auger well for maintaining trust in the police service.

The public at large is very stressed, exhausted and anxious over the ongoing pandemic. Implementing draconian measures to combat Covid-19 is not helpful. Many argue this new mandatory law on the wearing of facemasks has come too late. The horse has already bolted, so it’s too late to shut the barn door. Be that as it may, this author is of the view that wearing suitable facemasks correctly in public is necessary. However, to make it an offence to be with members of your household in a private car without facemasks seems an abuse of State power, oppressive and goes against medical opinion and common logic.

It crosses the line into unwarranted state inference with civil liberties and freedoms of citizens. Members of the same household should not be penalised for choosing not to wear facemasks in each other’s presence.

Copyright © 2020 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of using content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.

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