Crimes Bill deferred once again, delaying debate on same-sex rights

Tuesday 24 November 2020 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Local, National

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Crimes Bill deferred once again, delaying debate on same-sex rights
Te Tiare Association (LGBTQ+) and Pride Cook Islands members and supporters have been working to raise awareness in the community and lobby for a change in the country's Crimes Act that bans same-sex relations. MELINA ETCHES / 20092531

Parliamentarians are expected to delay debate on a draft Crimes Bill that decriminalises homosexuality. However, an MP report claims a majority of the public that participated in consultations want to keep the status quo, where the law doesn’t recognise equal rights for same-sex couples.

Parliament is expected to once again delay debate of the controversial Crimes Bill that effectively decriminalises homosexuality in the Cook Islands.

Members of Parliament are scheduled to meet this Friday for a one-day sitting of the House, during which it is expected a progress report will be submitted by a select committee that has held a series of consultations with the public on the bill.

The 2018 draft of the Crimes Bill does not include controversial sections in the existing legislation, which labels “indecency between males” as a crime.

However, an interim report prepared by the committee says out of 168 written and oral submissions received by the committee during the public consultation process, the “majority” wanted the controversial provisions reinstated or included in the new bill.

The report says the Cook Islands Crown Law office has advised inclusion of the provisions, specifically sections 154, 155, and 159 of the Crimes Act 1969, may contravene the Constitution.

The report notes that Crown Law was tasked with amending the 1969 Crimes Act in September “to ease the concern raised by the public” over exclusion of the controversial provisions.

Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana, who chairs the select committee, yesterday said that process is still continuing.

“In terms of the Crimes Bill, we are seeking further adjournment because we are waiting at the moment for assistance from Crown Law,” Elikana said.

Further adjournment of the bill is expected to raise the ire of a number of groups and individuals that have been lobbying for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

Local rights group Te Tiare Association has waged a multi-year fight to see the removal of the provisions in the 1969 law, which list punishment for “indecent acts” between two males of up to five years in prison.

Association president Valery Wichman said: “We implore and challenge that the Crimes Bill select committee will make the right decision and be on the right side of history and submit their recommendations at the next Parliamentary sitting as it has been deferred over and over again which has caused angst within our community.”

“We would like to see the removal of the discriminatory provisions which criminalise consenting same-sex relations for a more equal Cook Islands.”

The select committee report doesn’t provide details on the groups or individuals that provided 166 written submissions. A footnote in the report says the written submissions are available from Parliament.

During the upcoming sitting, acting Clerk Jeannine Daniel said Parliament is also expected to receive progress reports by the Agriculture Bill and the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill select committees.

It is also expected that Parliamentarians will delay debate on those pieces of prospective legislation as well.

Seventeen reports and two amendment bills related to Covid-19 are also expected to be tabled during the brief sitting, Daniel said.

MPs will also be given an opportunity to send Christmas greetings to their constituents and the nation.