Gaul says his rights violated
Other travellers appalled at treatment
Stabroek News
March 15, 2002

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Guyana-born Swedish citizen, Colin Gaul has presented the Foreign Ministry with a formal statement, declaring that his rights were severely violated when he was ejected from a BWIA West Indian Airways flight at the Grantley Adams Airport in Barbados last Saturday.

And the Foreign Affairs Ministry says it will write to the airline to get its version of what transpired during the incident.

Meanwhile a number of passengers who travelled on BW431 - the same flight as Gaul - have corroborated Gaul's story. They all expressed disgust at the manner in which the airline handled the incident, more so in front of his three-year-old child.

Commenting on the incident at the post Cabinet press briefing yesterday, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, said that the incident highlighted government's position taken at a number of CARICOM fora on the despicable treatment Guyanese received at the hands of officials from sister CARICOM states.

Promising that the issue would be followed up Dr Luncheon said that government had made various levels of representation against stereotyping and profiling of persons.

BWIA is set to hold a press conference on the issue at its head office today at which two members of its Executive Management team -- Vice President with responsibility for Customer Services and Operations Don McLean and Director (Security) Peter McCarthy -- will be present along with Area Manager, Dawn Murray.

Responding to questions from the media on the issue at Takuba Lodge yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister, Rudy Insanally said that the ministry would contact BWIA immediately.

Gaul yesterday met Insanally and Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Elisabeth Harper.

When questioned about actions taken over similar occurrences in the past, Insanally explained that often "there have not been enough details" allowing the overseas missions, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, to take any specific action. But he acknowledged that in this instance, unlike other cases in the past, it appeared that there were several witnesses, and the details were clearer.

Questioned about the captain's (of the flight in question) instructions that Gaul be removed from the plane as he posed a security risk, Insanally said that he would rather not comment, adding, "we are living in difficult times."

Since the incident came to light, the ministry had requested Guyana's Honorary Consul in Barbados Norman Faria to investigate and accordingly a preliminary report from Faria has been submitted. The minister was not prepared to disclose any details of the report but said that it included Faria's discussions with the Barbados Police and BWIA officials on the incident.

The airline was quick to defend the captain's decision to forcefully remove Gaul from the flight in a release issued following the incident. BWIA claimed that Gaul had become "angry and abusive at the inconvenience of having to board the aircraft through the rear door while a wheel chair bound passenger was being assisted to board via the front door." Gaul has refuted this saying that when he asked why he had to use the rear of the aircraft, he was told by cabin crew that only first class passengers could enter through the front door.

However, the press release completely omitted any mention of a waiver which Gaul is alleged to have signed, absolving BWIA of any responsibility for his injuries. The issue of the waiver was raised with BWIA Public Relations Officer, Clint Williams, in Trinidad. No response was forthcoming.

When Stabroek News approached the Georgetown branch of the airline yesterday, Murray denied any detailed knowledge of the waiver, stating that the office would have had to get in touch with the Barbados office and would contact Stabroek News later. When the response came it was that BWIA would hold a press conference today, at which all questions would be answered. Murray further informed the newspaper that she preferred not to answer any questions prior to the press conference.

Meanwhile, proprietrix of Clairan's Enterprise, Claire Pires, who was on the flight Gaul boarded in Barbados and witnessed the incident, recalled that Gaul's shirt was off when a Barbadian policeman dragged him off the plane by his crotch. When Gaul was forced pass her seat, she said, she saw blood oozing from his mouth. Gaul's son, not more than three years old, followed, screaming at the top of his voice. She said that was when tears came to her eyes. Pires was accompanied by her son on the flight from Miami to Georgetown via Barbados.

She said that local attorney-at-law Dr Barton Scotland, who was seated some way behind got up, identified himself and said that the man had said what he had wanted to say, had been quiet for awhile and asked "Why take him off now?" She said that a female lawyer on plane also questioned the police's actions.

Pires said that she was not a first class passenger, but had boarded from the front of the plane at Miami.

Pires said that no one who spoke up for their rights deserved the treatment the Barbadian police and BWIA staff meted out to Gaul.

Chief Medical Technologist attached to the National Blood Transfusion Service of the Georgetown Public Hospital, Lynette Hardy, who occupied seat 14C was also asked to disembark the plane. In an invited comment, Hardy told Stabroek News that the police who took Gaul off the plane returned asked her and the woman in 13C to get off the plane with him. She refused to budge, but took the opportunity to voice her concerns. However, she said, the other woman started to remove her bag, telling the police that she knew her rights, including that of expressing herself verbally. The police then ignored them both.

Hardy corroborated Pires' story and that carried in a letter to the editor of this newspaper from Yuolanda Barker titled `I did not feel threatened by this passenger.'

Pires, Hardy and Barker expressed disgust at the manner in which the incident was handled by BWIA. (Miranda La Rose and Thomas De Freitas)