Canouan is an island in the Grenadines Islands belonging to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It is a small island, measuring only 3.5 miles (5.6 km) by 1.25 miles (2 km). The population is about 1,700 people.
A barrier reef runs along the Atlantic side of the island. The highest point on the island is Mount Royal. Two bays, Glossy and Friendship, separate the southern side of the Canouan Island.
Canouan lies approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of St. Vincent which, from 1871 to 1969, was part of the British colony of the Windward Islands. Locals in need of supplies beyond basic staples routinely board cargo ships to make the two-to-three-hour passage to the main Island of Saint Vincent. A fast ferry service from Saint Vincent’s City of Kingstown Grenadines wharf which makes the journey to Canouan in only one hour.
The people of Canouan claim that the government has sold the major part of the island to developers and more recently to a developer headed by an Italian called Andrea Pignataro. The problem has arisen when a string of buoys were put across a bay stopping locals from going to the beach by boat, which is the only way to it. The beach can only be reached by sea because the developer has closed the road which is a public right of way and stopped the islanders from using it.
For hundreds if not thousands of years there has been an animal track, a public footpath, a public bridleway, a public road, a public right of way on Canouan. When along comes foreigners who buys or leases the land through which the right of way runs. But despite having barriered the road, that person, group or company acquiring the land does not and cannot cancel out the public right of way that in law must still continue. Even if the land under the right of way belongs to the new or old owner, that still does not cancel out the public right of way.
Any right that this developer is now claiming must have been purportedly given or granted to him/them by the government. Most of the islanders believe some dirty deed has taken place but the Prime Minister denies that.
The islanders need help because they believe the lawyers in SVG are frightened of the ruling regime, they are all sitting on their hands refusing to help in case they are penalized and punished since many are accused of tax evasion by the regime to keep them quiet and make them cower.
On the surface it would appear that the government has swindled the people out of their very rights to the freedom of the island of their birth, where in some cases their forbearers were enslaved. The islanders see it as a form of re-enslavement by the government of SVG and the imposition of a foreign master on them.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves who is also Minister of Finance and National Security, appealed to the Canouan islanders to be “mature” about the decisions that his government has taken.” “It is in the interest of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including in Canouan, for us to have these regulations,” but the islanders see it as a demonic disgrace, Gonsalves does not live there it does not affect him.
Prime Minister Gonsalves told the islanders to be mature, what an insult. The islanders most certainly are being mature, they have had something taken from them by the government and given to a stranger, a foreigner, which cannot be right and is not right. They must never concede their rights and they should never negotiate the terms of their rights, their rights are long established and are actually compared with a God given right. Why on earth would they need to negotiate terms regarding something they already own?
What PM Gonsalves has done is to allow a private island to be created within a public island to the detriment of the original settlers. A no go area for locals has been created over a major part of the island to the detriment of the islanders, their children and grandchildren.
In Law a member of the public has a right to cross another’s land if there is a public right of way over the land. The surface of the land over which a public right of way exists is termed a highway. A highway is not necessarily metalled [concrete, tarmac or made up]; an unmade track or even footpath may be as much a highway as a motorway.
The existence of a highway gives a member of the public the right to pass and repass along it. The manner in which he may do so [eg on foot, on horseback, by a horse-drawn or mechanically propelled vehicle] depends on the nature of the highway. A highway that falls into the category of a footpath entitles a member of the public to walk on it. A highway which falls into the category of a bridleway entitles a member of the public to ride a horse on it. A highway which falls into the category of a carriageway entitles a member of the public to walk, ride, or drive vehicles on it.
Such rights cannot be extinguished except by certain acts but if they are extinguished the right of way should be replaced by another route.
At Common Law the principle is ‘once a highway, always a highway’. Thus, once a highway has come into existence, the fact that the public has not used the way [whether due to lack of need or because the owner has blocked the route or for any other reason] does not extinguish the public right of way, however long the period of non-user.
The only way in which a public right of way can be extinguished is if the way is closed or diverted by an order made under a statutory provision. Such provision should not be because the owner wants to sell the land under or beside the track.
There is therefore a presumption at law that if the public right of way over a track is extinguished then an alternative track must be provided.
Let’s hope the islanders do not succumb to a written agreement with the resort owner about the right to pass on the highway or use the beach or sea, because if they do that, such an agreement may actually supersede their public and common law rights. They should not be required or forced to accept a watered down version of their rights or have to ask permission to pass a security guard manned road barrier or to sit on a beach.
The people have been excluded from the Crown Lands now sold and their traditional grazing land for goats and sheep has gradually disappeared. Eventually the way things are going they will only have their homes and gardens to stand up in, no country strolls, no beaches.
The resorts built are in general staffed by foreigners; there are Italians, Malaysians, Chinese, Filipino’s, French, Germans, Polish and other East Europeans working there. The few jobs given to locals are menial jobs nothing managerial. The locals are treated abysmally and are not allowed to go to the resorts, they are banned from going to the hotels, restaurants and bars, can you imagine being treated like that on an island that you were born into relative freedom, able to roam the island at will, now to be placed in those bonds and shackles?
They cannot walk on the old public roads and footpaths and they are trying to ban them from the beaches. The government have also excluded by enacting a Statute banning yachters’ from whom the islanders earn a living from mooring in the bays. They are also banned from flying kites.
With regard to the beaches the islanders are now investigating an ancient law which is still on the statute books the right of access to the coast guaranteed by the ‘Three Chains Act’, enacted in 1887 (St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Three Chains Act, 1887) the right of road to the public through the said strip of land. The Three Chains Act, 28 Vict.Cap.1
Please any Lawyers in Saint Lucia who can give advice or help on a pro-bono basis contact the writer of this letter.