Addressing Injustice in Guernsey by Emilie McSwiggan

June 9, 2020

Please see below an excellent blog by Emilie McSwiggan with links to many resources

Blog by Emilie McSwiggan

Protests against police violence, which started in the USA, are shaking the world: opening our eyes to racial injustice and leaving us asking “What can I do?”

I can’t speak for the US or the UK, and I can’t speak in place of the Black men and women who have been answering this question for generations. When it comes to Black Lives Matter, please listen to – and support – the people and organisations who are shaping the movement. Look for anti-racism reading lists on social media to educate yourself. Support campaigns like the Bail Project if you’re concerned about the way the US justice system is treating people. Support organisations in the UK (or in other countries) working to tackle the challenges of racism in their own context.

I only want to chip in to this conversation, for a few minutes, because some of us here in Guernsey have started to ask “What can I do in my own community?” Over the past few days, I’ve noticed that new people – I mean, people who don’t regularly write to their political representatives; people I don’t know from campaign groups here – are writing to us as States Members and asking us to move quickly to put in place non-discrimination laws.

So I want to take a moment to explain what we’re proposing to do here, and the difference you can make by adding your voice to the call for non-discrimination laws in our Bailiwick. I also want to suggest a few more things you can do that would help to address injustice in all its forms here in Guernsey. I won’t take much of your time – there are many other things that need your attention and your energy, too. But please take a moment, if you can, to help make a change for the better close to home.

Are people protected from discrimination in Guernsey?

In brief: no.

We have one law which protects people from sex discrimination at work – only. We have another law against racial hatred which protects people from outright abuse, but not from many forms of discrimination. Both date back to 2004-5. The States hasn’t done anything so progressive again since.

The Committee for Employment & Social Security (ESS) has been developing proposals for a comprehensive non-discrimination law throughout this term. Our proposals are here. If you want to read a summary, click here – there is also an Easy Read version here.

For an even quicker summary: If our plans are approved, we would introduce this law in three phases. Phase 1 would create new protections on the grounds of disability, carer status and race. Unlike the existing law, it’ll cover access to goods and services (shops, restaurants, cinemas, legal services & many more) and education, as well as fair treatment at work. Phase 2 would cover age and religious belief. Phase 3 would introduce protections on the ground of sexual orientation, and would modernise the Sex Discrimination Ordinance to include goods, services and education. Each phase will take about two years to complete – it’s longer than we’d like, but reflects the fact that our proposals have been challenged every step of the way.

When will non-discrimination laws be introduced?

Our proposals have been published and are due to be debated by the States in July. But it’s far from guaranteed that they will succeed.

In order to pass, the proposals will need a majority of at least 20 (out of 39 States Members).

Throughout this term, we have met stiff resistance from some representatives of the Island’s businesses. The main objections are to the parts of the law that would provide fair treatment and reasonable adjustments to disabled people – legislation that is essential and long overdue. Some powerful States Members have made it clear that they also oppose the introduction of non-discrimination laws.

Your support makes a difference. There is a petition here (with a brilliantly thoughtful introduction). Petitions are a great, quick way of showing your support. But petitions alone tend not to have much of an impact – individual, personalised contact is really important.

You can encourage States Members to support the law by emailing or phoning us – together, or individually. Our contact details are here. Above all, don’t just contact the people whose values you share. Don’t just contact the people who’ve already been working on this – we know how badly it’s needed! Reach out to those you don’t agree with, or don’t know. Their votes are needed to make this a reality.

Don’t forget, too, that where you work and where you spend your money are major aspects of your life, and give you an important opportunity to have an impact on the world around you, for better or for worse. Do you know what your employer’s position on this new law is? What about your favourite shop or café? Ask them. If they are supportive, ask them to speak out. If they are not, take the time to explain why it matters, to you and to others, and see if they will listen.

In the last few weeks, we have seen an impressive response from businesses to the COVID-19 crisis. Employers and businesses have put new ways of working in place which have made many workplaces much more accessible, especially to disabled people and people with caring responsibilities. We know positive change is possible – we just need to keep it moving.

Why is there a price tag attached to the law?

If you look at our proposals you will see that we think it’s going to cost about £300,000 a year on an ongoing basis to expand the Employment & Discrimination Tribunal and to run a new service called the Employment and Equal Opportunities Service.

The purpose of the Tribunal is to make sure the new laws are applied fairly. The purpose of the Employment and Equal Opportunities Service is to provide information, advice and education to the community – to individuals who want to understand their rights; to businesses and service providers who want to understand their responsibilities. This work of awareness-raising and attitude change is essential. A law is a backstop that people can use when things go wrong. But if we want to build a more inclusive community, we need to put as much effort as we can into making sure that things go right from the start. That’s why we think that this is an important investment.

But of course, anything that costs money is going to be challenged in the States. It always has been! And the knock-on consequences of the pandemic will make it even harder to persuade politicians to spend any money on this work. But without an effective legal system, and an organisation working to provide information and advice, the law will alone will just be words on paper. When you write to us, please recognise this, and show your support for a worthwhile investment in your community.

What if the proposals don’t go far enough?

If you were writing these laws, they might go a lot further. Heck, if I was writing them by myself, they would. But even getting our proposals to this stage has been very hard fought.

When you contact your Deputies, please feel free to tell us how the laws could be improved. Some Deputies might be willing to work together with you on amendments to improve the proposals – to make them happen faster, invest more money on them, or broaden the scope of protections. But be aware there’ll be a push in the other direction too, from people who want to make these proposals meaner – slow them down, de-fund them, narrow the scope of protection.

I can live with these proposals because it is far better to have an imperfect, but decent, framework of protections against discrimination in Guernsey, than to have no protections at all. Because we could spend forever in pursuit of perfection, while people’s real lives come and go without justice.

Closer to the debate, you’ll hear people say: “but if we just did a bit more research, we could come up with a better model.” These proposals have been researched for years. It’s not the research that’s the issue, it’s the political will. There comes a time when the States needs to commit to protecting everyone here in Guernsey from discrimination. That time is now.

What else can I do to make a difference?

If you have been watching events unfold around the world, and asking yourself “How else can I make my own community better, kinder, more just, more inclusive?” – I’d like to try and make some suggestions.

First, take a cue from those protests, and listen to those who’ve lived it. If a friend or a stranger tells you of their experience of cruel or unfair treatment here in Guernsey, listen to them. Pay attention when organisations representing people who’ve experienced discrimination and disadvantage speak out, too. And take them at face value. Trusting someone is a choice, just as is “playing devil’s advocate.” You lose nothing by taking someone at their word when they relate a painful experience, just as you would if they related a joyful one.

Know your history – it holds important clues to the present. We may be an island, but we are deeply connected to the rest of the world. We were a seafaring community at a time when the slave trade was at its peak – we cannot allow ourselves to believe we were innocent of it. We have roots in the same history of oppression that has led to racism being hardwired into institutions in the US, in the UK and around the world.

There are other ways, too, that people here have faced disadvantage and discrimination that’s been written into law. Did you know that Guernsey only had full adult suffrage – at last – in 2015? Before then, some people with mental health conditions and disabilities were not allowed to vote. Bear that in mind when disabled people speak about the challenges they face in our community.

Likewise, our mental health laws were cruelly out-of-date for decades – written in the 1930s, they were only updated in 2010. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2016. Birth registration laws – again, written in the 1930s – still require a mother and a father. Some of these legal disadvantages remained (or remain) in place long after community attitudes have changed, and still have a profound effect on the lives of people who are directly affected by them. Knowing our history gives us a better chance of understanding what kinds of stigma, disadvantage and discrimination may persist into the present – and prepares us better to change it, too.

Do justice. It’s not just about having the right laws. Justice is in how laws are applied on a daily basis.

Did you know that you could be part of Guernsey’s justice system?

If you are concerned about discrimination, have you thought about joining Guernsey’s Employment & Discrimination Tribunal? If you care about children and teenagers who come into contact with the justice system, might you become involved in the Child, Youth and Community Tribunal? If you are interested in justice more generally, would you consider standing for Jurat or joining the Parole Review Committee?

These roles are all different, and require different time commitments – the role of Jurat (essentially a permanent Jury member) is particularly intense. Do what’s right for you.

But don’t turn your back on the justice system. Remember the idea of “a jury of your peers”? It’s the idea that, in a fair community, justice is best served if the people who are doing the judging, and the people who are judged, have some shared backgrounds, shared experiences, shared challenges. If people like you are not willing to be part of our justice system, then ask yourself – seriously – who will. And ask if you are comfortable with that.

There are also ways that you can be involved in holding our law enforcement systems accountable.

You might want to become a member of the Police Complaints Commission – the body that oversees complaints against the Police. You might want to join the Independent Monitoring Panel, which has an important human rights function, providing an independent check on conditions in Guernsey’s prison; or to join the Independent Custody Visitors.

The wonderful new initiative to encourage Women in Public Life has information on all these roles and many more. If you want justice to be done well in your community, please consider if you can give your time and energy to one of the organisations which is responsible for doing so.

Challenge unjust laws and unjust practices wherever you see them. Non-discrimination laws are an important commitment to our Island. They are a way of saying “no matter who you are, you will be respected equally and treated fairly here.” It is an embarrassment to Guernsey in the 21st Century that we still don’t have them.

But they’re only part of the puzzle. People’s day-to-day lives are affected by a whole patchwork of laws and decisions which discrimination legislation, alone, won’t change. How do we know what they are? Going back to the first thing I said – listen to people who experience disadvantage and discrimination here. Act together to help make change. Get used to writing to your States Members and organising others to do the same. Raise awareness in the community. Use the media. Use creative protest. Democracy isn’t just what we do in the States, or what you do on the day you go out and cast your vote – democracy is an ongoing engagement with the way the world is, and being an active, engaged citizen is central to that.

Get political, and stay political. I’m just going to end on this one. I’ve already talked about writing to your political representatives. You need to understand that politicians in Guernsey don’t have offices in the same way as most politicians elsewhere – most of us don’t have someone else answering the post for us, or reading the headlines and keeping an eye on what’s going on. We do it ourselves, and we get overworked, and we miss things. We’re probably not going to see what you’ve put on social media; we might even be oblivious to the protest you’ve organised. So the best way of making sure that we know what you’re concerned about is to put it right in front of us – by emailing, writing or phoning.

And if your friends care about the same things as you, be the nagging friend who encourages them to write, to share, to get actively involved. A lot of people have good intentions, but just require a little bit of a push to put it into action. A wonderful friend of mine recommends using your friendship group to practice having difficult conversations, too, so that you are ready to say what needs to be said when you’re faced with it.

Above all – when it comes to politics, could you stand for Election yourself? The government is only ever as good as the people in it. We have a General Election coming up soon. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be able to confirm if that’s this autumn, or if it will have to wait until next summer. (It was originally postponed from this month due to the pandemic.) When you know, ask yourself seriously if you could set aside four years of your life to help shape the community you want to see.

What if I’ve got other suggestions?

I’d like to hear them. I know there are lots of ways of making a change here that I haven’t begun to mention – especially the great work that voluntary and community organisations do. If you would like to share ideas, I would be glad to keep this section of the blog updated with your suggestions. (I can give you credit, or include anonymous suggestions, whatever you are most comfortable with.)

Can I share this?

If you think it would help, please do.

I’ve tried to share a perspective on how you can help to make a change for the better here in Guernsey, but that’s it. It’s one small contribution in a big global conversation — please keep listening, and prioritising the voices of Black people here and in the UK, the US and elsewhere.

If you don’t want to share the whole blog post, but just a few key messages, here are some suggestions to end with. You are welcome to share these, add to them, put them in your own words or your own format … Whatever works best for you. The important thing is that people are talking about this, and taking action for good.

If you have a minute

Sign a petition calling for Guernsey to introduce non-discrimination law in Guernsey

Share this summary (or this Easy Read version) of our proposals for Guernsey’s non-discrimination law

If you have ten minutes …

Write to your politicians asking us to support the introduction of non-discrimination law asap

Ask your employer or your favourite local business to speak up in support of the law

If you have an hour or two …

Contact a local organisation working to address discrimination and injustice, and ask what you can do to help

Read about people’s experience of racism and discrimination – there’s not a great deal of Guernsey-specific writing, but we share a lot of common history with Britain, and you might want to look out Black writers such as Akala, Reni Eddo Lodge, Benjamin Zephaniah, Bernadine Evaristo and many more

If you can make a regular commitment …

Volunteer on a regular basis with an organisation in Guernsey that’s working to tackle discrimination and injustice

Put yourself forward for one of the many Tribunals and Commissions that make up our justice system

Stand to be a Guernsey politician and help to make the change you want to see

Don’t wait for anyone else to do it. It starts with you.

By |June 8th, 2020|Blog

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