CANU, Police can search persons only if there is “reasonable suspicion” – attorney

In light of recent incidents where outgoing passengers at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) were strip-searched and had to endure embarrassing situations at the hands of Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) ranks, there is much controversy as to the boundaries of the rights that agency has as well as members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to conduct such exercises.
Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin in an exclusive interview with Guyana Times stated that CANU and the GPF have the right to search someone if they had, what the laws of Guyana recognises as “reasonable suspicion” that the person was committing, about to commit or had just committed an offence.
He, however, explained that these rules are intended to rely on the integrity of law enforcement officials which means that they must exercise proper judgement as to what is reasonable suspicion.

Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin

“So, reasonable suspicion can’t be that you’re acting on you know, very nebulous facts, it has to be that you are acting on specific facts. Now as it relates to the search, as it relates to the very intrusive cavity search that was apparently required [recently], that is in itself an area of law for which there is much controversy because the suspicion would then have to relate that the person is concealing the narcotics in their body…Could she have refused the search? Not really, in most cases that arise, if the police have reasonable suspicion and they ask you to search you could say no but you really don’t have a right to stop it.”

Invasion of personal space
According to Datadin, the system that governs Guyana is based on the “English” system where rules are a little more liberal than those in the American system.
“She was entitled to say no and if they said well then you have to [do] an x-ray so that we could be satisfied then she would have to. She could choose to undergo the x-ray or if that is refused as well, then they can go get a judge and get the order now that would be what would happen in a perfect world. The actual situation of what happens in Guyana is…they go ahead and, the Police Force and CANU seem to take it upon themselves that they have the right to do this, it is an invasion of your personal space and your person for them to do these sorts of things,” the attorney elaborated.
He reiterated that if ranks have information and enough suspicion then they are entitled to search a person but that the integrity of the law enforcement officials should not have to be questioned in such cases.

Violation of constitutional rights
The attorney further stated that it is a clear threat to someone’s constitutional right if CANU and police ranks want to exercise their powers to arbitrarily stop and search individuals who are travelling.
“But is that going to stop them? I am not so sure because we have a very lax approach as to what rights are and it is time that some of the people that suffer these things, it is time for them to go to court and enforce their rights. Maybe the law enforcement officials need to engender better confidence, maybe they need to act more responsibly, maybe they need to conduct themselves in a more professional manner and then citizens would believe them when they say well they had a reasonable suspicion. As it stands right now, no one believes the Police Force or law enforcement in this country,” Datadin posited.
He added that due to the lack of confidence that society has in the local law enforcement agencies, it is hard to believe some explanations as to why someone’s constitutional right may have been violated and this means that the local authorities need to change such viewpoints.
“They do what they want, they feel that they would get away with it because most people wouldn’t bother to go to the courts because they are met with a system that is slow. And so it is a waste of time for them so most people let it go. That shouldn’t keep happening though and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” the lawyer added.
The issue of cavity searches at CJIA came to the fore last week when two women in separate instances said that they had been subjected to searches by CANU ranks that entailed the two women having to “strip and squat”.
On Sunday last, a United States-based woman, Ayana Adams, who is a Guyanese by birth was in the process of returning to New York on a Caribbean Airlines flight after vacationing in her homeland when she was taken into a room by two female ranks of CANU to be searched.
According to the young lady’s lawyer, Siand Dhurjon, she was told that she needed to remove her clothing for a thorough scan to be conducted.
According to the lawyer, his client reluctantly took off her jumpsuit, leaving just her bra and underwear but the agents were not satisfied, demanding that she take off all her clothes, squat and cough as they needed to check “her abdomen and her guts”.
Dhurjon explained that his client’s reason for not wanting to squat was because she was experiencing her menstrual cycle, a fact that was explained to the CANU officers to no avail.
The second female to come forward shortly after this incident was 40-year-old Malika Cole. She told the media that she is a Guyanese, who currently resides in Trinidad and Tobago.
According to Cole, on April 2, she was subjected to an intrusive search by a female rank of CANU at the CJIA.
“She told me I have to strip and squat and do everything that she told me to do and that was it…”
Cole said she was then told to cough multiple times and the officer also ordered her to open her mouth for her to examine it. The search by the ranks revealed nothing, she noted.
Both women have signalled their intent to sue CANU for the intrusion and embarrassment they were forced to endure.
CANU later contended that it will continue to conduct searches of passengers, luggage, vehicles etc, at all ports of entry and exits in Guyana. It said that those searches will be done in accordance with local and international standards with due cordiality and professionalism.