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Sep 15, 2020

Equal Opportunities Bill Pulled

The Equal Opportunities Bill was scheduled to be tabled in the House of Representatives this Wednesday, but it has now been shelved.  Late this evening, the government confirmed that cabinet decided not to proceed with the bill at this time and to withdraw it.  The government says that while for some there might have been genuine consternation; it is regrettable that there was purposeful misinformation from some stakeholders.  Cabinet says that the bill contains very good elements that would bring about tremendous benefits to the aging population, persons with disabilities and those carrying HIV, gender issues,   political opinion, religious activity, sexual orientation and domestic violence. Since it was made public in January by the National AIDS Commission, the language of the bill came under attack amid complaints that it was being rushed and time was needed for more consultations.  Opposition was fast and furious from the churches and other groups. It is now likely that for the life of this government, it will not be taken to the House.  The bill was drafted to deal with discrimination in various forms, but those who oppose the bill say that it is far reaching.  As soon as word got out that it was in the agenda of the House, detractors started protests in various areas of the country. By midday, cabinet took a decision to pull it back. Here is Hipolito Novelo with a report.


Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

This is the Equal Opportunities Bill, 2020. It is eighty-seven pages with twelve parts to it. The bill was expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but a heated  debate regarding what the bill contains,  emerged once again.

Following a Cabinet meeting this morning it was decided that the Equal Opportunities Bill, will be taken off from the agenda. The Cabinet met as protestors, mostly members of churches participated in motorcades in several municipalities. This protest against the bill was lead by Louis Wade under the hashtag #IWantMyCountryBack and #KillTheBill.


Louis Wade

Louis Wade, #IWantMyCountryBack

“Kill the bill which means we don’t want a half bill. We don’t want a limping bill. We don’t want a reenergized bill. We want to kill the bill and then start the bill the right way.


The creators of the E.O.B. which are the Ministry of Human Development, the National Aids Commission and the Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children, say that the bill promotes equal opportunities between persons of different status; prevents and prohibits certain kinds of discrimination.

The bill seeks to protect an individual from discrimination based on twenty-one characteristics including lawful sexual activity, intersex status, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In short, among the groups included in the list are members of LGBT community in Belize. This has attracted the attention of the public, sparking widespread condemnation of the bill as was seen during the public consultations earlier this year. Church leaders across the country led motorcycles. These are in Belmopan and San Ignacio. In Orange Walk Patrick Menzies led a handful of women up and down in front of the town council building. This video shows a small number of vehicles in a motorcade in Punta Gorda.


Louis Wade

“If it comes to discrimination and you want to protect the minority do not trample the constitutional rights of everybody to give the minority special rights. That is what the Equal Opportunities Bill is about. It is not about equality. It is about special interest and special rights and special commission to do a new morality in Belize.”


According to the bill, “discriminate against” means to make a distinction, create an exclusion, or show a difference in treatment to a person who falls within the characteristics. And while the “gay factor” has consumed the debate regarding the bill, the bill also protects a wider group of individuals. The bill protects against discrimination based on age, breastfeeding, disability, HIV positive status, irrelevant criminal record, marital status, pregnancy, race, sex, status as an orphan, religious belief or activity and political opinion.

Attached to the bill are several fines and terms for imprisonment if the violator contravenes the laws in the bill. Those against the bill say that the penalties are extreme and seek to restrict their freedom of speech.


Scott Stirm

Pastor Scott Stirm, Second Vice President, N.E.A.B.

“Guilty until proven innocent. The responsibility is for the accused to prove that they did not discriminate and so that is an unconstitutional point. In the draft from January it stated clearly that the accused are allowed legal representation. We are talking about being brought to a tribunal that has the power to assess a twenty thousand dollars fine and send people to prison for two years and yet the accused are not allowed legal representation? That is unconstitutional. So in this current say it does not say that but there is no mention for any legal representation for those who are accused and the bottom line Hipolito it is creating a tribunal and commission that is far too powerful. Our senior counsel attorneys have called this bill a monster.”


Hipolito Novelo

“Is it that there are certain sections of the bill that needs amendment? Or would you support that the bill should be pulled in its entirety?”


 Pastor Scott Stirm

“We believe that the bill should be pulled in its entirety.  Everything has been slapped together rushy, rushy in relation to this bill even though it has been dragged over these months.”


Reacting to the government decision to sideline the bill was UNIBAM’s executive director. Caleb Orozco.


Caleb Orozco

Caleb Orozco, Executive Director, UNIBAM

“What is clear to me is that we had a small extremist group of people using loud and visible tactics to make a point but what they don’t realize that they were revealing their strategies. There offering lesions of actions. They were offering lessons for future reference with regards to legislation reform. For me their actions do not speak for the majority of Belizeans who support the bill based on the poll that was done. It doesn’t speak to the live and let live culture that Belizeans live. It doesn’t speak to the peace of mind and the diversity of our culture which has allowed us to live in peace and harmony for generations. So it doesn’t speak for a majority of our people to know what it is to live with fairness and respect in our citizenry.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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