Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry - Activists Karen DeSousa evidence

"We are trying to get to the truth of this matter and every single document that exists and should exist, should be here that is what my point is." Selwyn A. Pieters

By Selwyn A. Pieters, B.A., LL.B., L.E.C.
Lawyer & Notary Public (Ontario, Canada)
Attorney-at-Law (Republic of Guyana, Island of Trinidad)
Posted on August 4, 2014

As a lawyer with significant experience in human rights, civil rights and non-adversarial matters, I was retained to represent its interest of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) at the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry. I am currently co-counsel with Brian M. Clarke representing the Guyana Trades Union Congress in the Walter Anthony Rodney Commission of Inquiry in Georgetown, Guyana.

The Commissioners are Sir. Richard L. Cheltenham, K.A., Q.C., Ph.D – Chairman (Barbados); Mrs. Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, Q.C. (Jamaica) and Mr. Seenath Jairam, S.C. (Trinidad). The Commission’s mandate established by its terms of reference is:-
(i) To examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to, the death of Dr. Walter Rodney in order to determine, as far as possible, who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in the death of Dr. Walter Rodney;
(ii) To inquire into the cause of the explosion in which Dr. Walter Rodney died, whether it was an act of terrorism, and if so, who were the perpetrators;
(iii) To specifically examine the role, if any, which the late Gregory Smith, Sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force, played in the death of Dr. Walter Rodney and if so, to inquire into who may have counselled, procured, aided and or abetted him to do so, including facilitating his departure from Guyana after Dr. Walter Rodney’s death;
(iv) To examine and report on the actions and activities of the State, such as, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People’s Militia and those who were in command and superintendence of these agencies, to determine whether they were tasked with the surveillance of and the carrying out of actions, and whether they did execute those tasks and carried out those actions against the Political Opposition, for the period 1st January, 1978 to 31st December, 1980;
(v) To examine, review and report on earlier investigations and enquiries done on and into the death of Dr. Walter Rodney.

Karen DeSousa was an activist in the WPA. She is an important witness as the surviving occupant of the vehicle in which Dr. Walter Rodney died, his baby brother, Donald Rodney went to Karen's home seeking assistant for his injuries and Dr. Walter Rodney.

The cross-examination that I conduct on Karen DeSousa went to the modus operandi of Dr Walter Rodney as a political leader: charismatic, courageous, risk-taker, and in the final instance "fool-hardy" (either a dupe or willing participant in testing the exp-losive device). A question also dealt with whether Dr. Rodney was seen as a threat to the political hierarchy of both PNC and PPP? 

Mr. Pieters: Let me read, Ms. De Souza, what Mr. Burnham said... This is the Comrade Leader on page 29. He said, “Alright. Ease it. Now, Comrades, we allow them for the time being, as I said, to hold meetings, and we would always allow them to hold meetings, but they must understand that when you hold meetings you must be sure you do not offend the audience. No, no, cannot offend your audience. You must not mistake other people‟s audience for your own. An audience is a wife that belongs exclusively to one, so Comrades, the youngsters apply to hold the meeting one block away from the PNC Congress, well then, we had to say this [and in quotation marks] “eye-pass must stop”.”
Ms. De Souza: Sorry, I have lost the question.
Mr. Pieters: The question was phrased differently. The question that I was going to suggest to you was Prime Minister Forbes Burnham had no issues with peaceful assembly so long as they were lawful and not conducted in a way that can cause physical antagonism between the Parties. I believed you answered that one. Then I went onto the next question and I said in the speech of the Third Biennial Congress, page 29, you would agree that Burnham considered it eye-pass that WPA came it Sophia in the vicinity of the PNC Headquarters to hold their public meetings.
Ms. De Souza: And I am saying that the premise of the question is wrong. The WPA was not in Sophia.
Mr. Pieters: Right, but that is what his speech is; that the WPA applied to hold their meeting one block away from Congress Place; that is what his speech reflects.
Ms. De Souza: Yes, so what are you asking me to respond to?
Mr. Pieters: I was asking you to respond because the Chairman asked a question about the issue of eye pass. You would agree that in the Guyana context, eye-pass means a gross insult.

Ms. De Souza: I actually do not like the term eye-pass. It speaks to disrespect between people. It speaks to differing power relation and most of the time, it speaks about children eyes pass adults and it is in that context, I would understand that statement.
Mr. Pieters: So you are saying that Prime Minister Burnham attempted to infantilise the WPA when he made that statement?
Ms. De Souza: I think he was speaking to his own superiority and paramouncy.
Mr. Pieters: Now, would you agree that when Dr. Rodney addressed Forbes Mr. Burnham as King Kong, King Kong can be accepted as a derogatory stereotype?
Ms. De Souza: It might, it depends on who was saying it.
Mr. Pieters: And in the context in which Dr. Rodney used those terms, I am going to suggest to you that it was a derogatory racist stereotype directed at Forbes Burnham.

Ms. De Souza: I would disagree.


Mr. Pieters: The Commission has evidence that the Ministry of National Development seems to have been a place where a lot of things were funneled through and so I am going to suggest to you that the Ministry of National Development was a powerful arm of the People‟s National Congress or Government of the day.
Ms. De Souza: I imagine that it was, but as I said, I have no direct experience with it.
Mr. Pieters: And I am going to suggest to you that the burning down of that building shook the Prime Minister of the day, Forbes Burnham.

Ms. De Souza: It may have done so.


Mr. Pieters: And you testify in response to pounding on your door. You opened it to be met by Donald Rodney, the brother of Walter. He rang the bell and shouted, “Open, open there has been a terrible accident”.

Ms. De Souza: Much have been made of the word „accident‟ and I have said on every occasion that he may have said „accident‟; he may have said, “something terrible has happened”. I cannot say. I have continued to use those words.
Mr. Pieters: Very well, Madame Commissioner. Let me ask you this: You would agree that your memory would have been fresh and as fresh as it could be soon after the incident occurred?
Ms. De Souza: And I would also agree that I was in serious shock.
Mr. Pieters: Very well. Donald Rodney told you to go and check on the welfare of Dr. Walter Rodney. He told you to go to him, is that not correct?
Ms. De Souza: It is.
Mr. Pieters: And you left your home and you went to the scene?
Ms. De Souza: I did.
Mr. Pieters: And you said that you got to the scene seven minutes after you heard the explosion from Croal Street, correct?

Ms. De Souza: I did.
Mr. Pieters: When you left your home you left on the premise accepting what the Commissioner just read. You left on the premise that Dr. Rodney was involved in a terrible accident or something terrible had happened to him and he was in his brother‟s vehicle.
Ms. De Souza: Yes.
Mr. Pieters: And when you left your home, you had no concern that you would have been at risk or a secondary explosion or any form of harm?
Ms. De Souza: I do not remember thinking in that way.

Mr. Pieters: I am going to suggest to you that you had no concern that you were at risk when you left your home to attend to the scene based on what Donald Rodney had told you.
Mr. Pieters: Why would you have taken the risk of rushing to the scene where Dr. Walter Rodney was?

Ms. De Souza: I believe I responded subsequently in the same way. I was told that a friend of mine is likely to be hurt and in that context, you are talking about possible political hurt. The issue is not “why would I take the risk?”, the issue is, “is there something I could do to help?”


Mr. Pieters: Let me move back to Dr. Walter Rodney. You would agree that Dr. Walter Rodney was a courageous person?
Ms. De Souza: Yes.
Mr. Pieters: You would agree that he was a brave man?
Ms. De Souza: Yes.
Mr. Pieters: You would also agree that he was a risk taker?
Ms. De Souza: Yes. I believe anybody in the WPA in those days was a risk taker.


Mr. Pieters: Now my understanding is that there were two Police Officers that were directed to work at the prison that evening, Constable Isaiah Williams and Constable Easton, and they were from Brickdam Police Station. Now if it is true that the Guyana Police Force had sentries that were on duty, then would it be plausible as well that given the risk-taking nature of Dr. Rodney that his presence or his going to the prison, whether it was at the direction of Gregory Smith or whomever, was consistent with him as a risk taker?
Mr. Pieters: Well if the premise is accepted, my understanding is he was going to the prison wall to test the device that he had on him which was a placebo of a walkie-talkie.
Mr. Chairman: That the incident took place near the prisons is the same thing as saying he was going to the prison? I think we have to be very precise with our language here. As I understand the evidence, the incident in which Dr. Walter Rodney was blown up and met his death took place near the prison, but there was no evidence that he was going to the prison. I think there is a subtle difference, but you proceed.
Mr. Pieters: I appreciate that, Mr. Chairman.
Mrs. Samuels-Brown: And in fact the Police Officers‟ evidence that you are referring relate to them being on beat and foot patrol carrying out traffic vigilance and duties. Am I correct, Sir?
Mr. Pieters: They were on duty, Madame Commissioner.
Mrs. Samuels-Brown: Thank you.
Mr. Pieters: So my question to you is if there were Police Officers on duty, given the courageous nature of Dr. Walter Rodney, given the risk-taking nature that he adopted that such actions in the face of armed guards would have been quite plausible if he was heading to that prison, outside the walls to test a device?
Ms. De Souza: Counsel, that sounds like the kind of question I might ask, “Do you still beat your wife?” I did not find the wrecked car with Walter‟s body near to the prison. I do not know that Walter was going to the prison. I said that he took risks and that he was courageous. I did not say that he was foolhardy.
Mr. Chairman: That is the answer you got, Counsel.
Mr. Pieters: Do you know what? Seeing that you have raised that, I am going to attack that answer.
Mr. Chairman: I just wondered whether there was another question.
Mr. Pieters: You know when Counsel Scotland cross-examined Eusi Kwayana, Counsel Scotland put to him the situation of Dr. Walter Rodney bending down and looking for a red light and actually had Eusi Kwayana do a demonstration. Were you present when that evidence was given?
Ms. De Souza: No, I was not.
Mr. Pieters: Well let me ask you this: If it is true that the instructions were that Dr. Walter Rodney was to bend over and look for a red light in that vehicle, would that not be something fool hardy?
Mr. Jairam: Mr. Pieters, you know I did not want to stop you before but I think this is the second occasion on which you are inviting her to speculate. This kind of evidence… I do not think, speaking for myself, that this witness could give us a helpful answer.
Mr. Pieters: Very well, Mr. Commissioner. Let me ask you this: Were you aware of the relationship between Dr. Walter Rodney and Gregory Smith?
Ms. De Souza: I was not.

Mr. Pieters: Those are all my questions.


Transcript of Evidence of Ms. Karen DeSousa and Tacuma Ogunseye, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 1, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 2, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 3, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 4, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 5, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 6, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Walter Rodney COI, August 4, 2014 - Part 7, Stabroek News, August 4, 2014

Selwyn A. Pieters, B.A. (Toronto), LL.B. (Osgoode), L.E.C. (U.W.I). Lawyer & Notary Public (Ontario). Attorney-at-Law (Republic of Guyana and Republic of Trinidad and Tobago).

Selwyn has appeared at all levels of courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada in Attorney General of Ontario v. Michael J. Fraser, et al., 2011 SCC 20, Ontario Court of Appeal in Freeman-Maloy v. Marsden 267 D.L.R. (4th) 37, 208 O.A.C. 307 (C.A.); Bangoura v. Washington Post (2005) 202 O.A.C. 76, (2005) 17 C.P.C. (6th) 30 (Ont.C.A.), the Federal Court of Appeal in The Honourable Sinclair Stevens v. The Conservative Party of Canada, [2005] F.C.J. No. 1890, 2005 FCA 383. He represented Correctional Manager Mariann Taylor-Baptiste in the ground-breaking competing rights case of Taylor-Baptiste v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2012 CarswellOnt 8965, 2012 HRTO 1393, 2012 C.L.L.C. 230-022 reconsideration denied in 2013 CarswellOnt 1033, 2013 HRTO 180, 2013 C.L.L.C. 230-019 at the HRTO; Civil Rights lawyer Charles Roach in the Oath cases of McAteer, Topey, Dror-Natan v. Canada (Attorney General) 2013 CarswellOnt 13165, 2013 ONSC 5895 (ON S.C.) and Roach et al. v. Canada 2012 CarswellOnt 7799, 2012 ONSC 352 (ON S.C.) which is a constitutional challenge to the oath in the Citizenship Act.

Selwyn has provided representation to persons charged with various criminal offenses including Drugs: Selling and Possessing, Shoplifting, Serious Offences of Violence: Aggravated Assault, Assault with a Weapon and Robbery, Gun Offences, sexual assault, robbery, theft, extortion, HIV/AIDS litigation; fraud, break & enter, attempted murder, murder, regulatory offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, professional disciplinary offences, and conspiracy offences.

Selwyn has also been involved in drugs, guns and gang trials including "Project Green Apple", "Project XXX" and "Project Kryptic", "Project Corral" which are some of Canada's largest Criminal Organization prosecutions. Selwyn is currently counsel for an accused in "Project Feline" and Project Revival" drug sting operations. In Project Corral, Selwyn's advocacy resulted in the "gang expert" evidence being discredited and the Criminal Organization charges against his client and others being tossed out by the Court: R. v. Agil, Chambers, Fullerton, Jimale and Brown 2011 CarswellOnt 18099 (Ont. CJ. July 14, 2011, Khawley J.)

Selwyn recently obtained an extraordinary remedy of costs agains the Crown for failure to provide disclosure of police officer memo book notes in R. v. W.(J.), [2013] O.J. No. 2284, 2013 CarswellOnt 6322, 2013 ONCJ 270 (Ont. CJ.).

Selwyn is the successful litigant in the recent racial profiling case involving carding of three Black men: Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 CarswellOnt 7881, 2013 ONCA 396, 228 A.C.W.S. (3d) 204, 116 O.R. (3d) 81, 306 O.A.C. 314, 9 C.C.E.L. (4th) 233, [2013] O.J. No. 2695.

Selwyn has provided crucial legal advise to clients duringhigh risk situations such as gun calls, hostage taking, barricaded persons, mentally disturbed persons, high risk arrests and public order control in situations where there is significant public disorder, lawlessness, personal injury and property damage. Charges of cause disturbance and assault police can be pretextual racial profiling charges: R. v. Roach, 2005 O.J. No. 5278 (Ont. C.J.) (Criminal Law - Causing a Disturbance); R. v. Ramsaroop, 2009 CarswellOnt 5281, 2009 ONCJ 406 (Ont. CJ.); R. v. Taylor, 2010 CarswellOnt 6584, 2010 ONCJ 396, [2010] O.J. No. 3794 (Ont. CJ.)

Selwyn was co-counsel in the world's first-ever sexual HIV transmission murder trial of Johnson Aziga in Hamilton, Ontario. See, for example, R. v. Aziga, 2008 CanLII 39222 (ON S.C.); R. v. Aziga; 2008 CarswellOnt 4300 (ON S.C.) and R. v. Aziga, 2008 CanLII 29780 (ON S.C.)

Selwyn argued on racial profiling includes: R. v. Steele, 2010 ONSC 233 (ON S.C.) and R. v. Egonu, 2007 CanLII 30475 (ON SC) - Driving while black and R. v. Bramwell-Cole [2010] O.J. No. 5838 (ON S.C.) - walking while black.

Selwyn has acted in exclusion cases at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: See, Song Dae Ri (Re) 2003 CarswellNat 4527; (2004) 36 Imm. L.R. (3d) 203; Liang (Re) 2002 CarswellNat 4719; 33 Imm. L.R. (3d) 251.

Selwyn has appeared in  Coroners' Inquest including: Coroner's Inquest into the Death of Negus Topey (May 02, 2005, Coroners' Court, Dr. K.A. Acheson) Ruling on Application for Standing; Coroner's Inquest into the Death of Dwight Haughton (Coroners' Court, Dr. Evans) Ruling on Application for Standing; Coroner's Inquest into the Death of Jeffrey Reodica(May 04, 2006, Coroners' Court, Dr. B. Porter) Ruling on Application for Standing

Selwyn also acted as co-counsel with C. Nigel Hughes for the families of three deceased persons killed during a civil demonstration in Linden, Guyana, at the Linden Commission of Inquiry. Selwyn is currently co-counsel with Brian M. Clarke representing the Guyana Trades Union Congress in the Walter Anthony Rodney Commission of Inquiry in Georgetown, Guyana.

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