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Senate e-mail rift widens


THE rift between both sides of the Upper House appeared to be widening yesterday with some senators drawing hard lines as the controversy surrounding Government Senator Kamina Johnson Smith claim of being harassed by e-mail intensified.

“There is no way there will be any cooperation for a long time after this. It will be hot in the Senate on Friday and Kamina might just give them what they have been calling for since last week,” one source close to the Government told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“This has been moved to another level with the release of that e-mail thread. There can be no trust as any private conversation might be made public at some time,” added the source, in reference to a decision by Opposition Senator Lambert Brown to publicly release a 2014 e-mail conversation.

The 2014 e-mail thread released by Brown opens with then Government Senator A J Nicholson telling the then Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Marlene Malahoo Forte that: “Your colleague, Johnson Smith, has said on radio that, in the Senate today, I asked you if you wanted to be flexi raped. I did not, could not, and would not say any such thing to you. You know that.

“In all my life, no one has ever stated such a bare-faced lie on me publicly. But let your colleague be assured that the evil that people do…the big payback is coming. Mark my word! And that was an evil thing to do!”

According to the e-mail thread, Malahoo Forte responded:

“I listened to the interview/exchanges on Nationwide [ News Network].

“I invite you to request the audio transcript from Cliff Hughes. I think Senator Johnson Smith took care to clarify the issue. You may conclude differently once to listen back to it.

“For my part, I realised that you were joking (and I accept that you did not intend to disrespect me personally). That is why I chose not to respond in the Senate.

“However, to joke about rape in a context where concerns were being raised about women being vulnerable and at risk will cause you to rightly incur the wrath of others, especially women and Senator Johnson Smith, who has Opposition Senate portfolio responsibility for Women and Gender Affairs.

“People will naturally wonder about a mind-set that makes light of such a serious matter.

“You did more harm to yourself when you insisted that it was just a ‘likkle joke’ and showed reluctance in either withdrawing or apologising for the sotto voce comment, once it became a bone of contention.

“It is extremely unfortunate that an otherwise spirited debate ended in the manner it did.

“I suggest that if you are called upon to explain further, just be mindful of your tone. It will be very difficult for you to win with so many taking offence to a joke that was in poor, poor taste, but I accept that it was not your intention to disrespect me.”

The thread continues with Nicholson saying:

“You begin and end with the clear, uncomplicated admission: ‘I realised that you were joking and I accept that you did not intend to disrespect me personally. That is why I chose not to respond…’

“That, with respect senator, is the crux of the matter. Johnson-Smith chose to…, adding words that I did not use, to show how much I disrespected you (and all of womanhood).

“That is what caused the issue to escalate; that was the subject and base of Hughes’ comments…”Disrespect…to YOU”. I would have had to disrespect you first, before disrespecting ‘all women’…

“This is not likely to be easily forgotten and, sadly, it is bound to change relationships in the Upper House for the worse.”

Following the publication of the e-mail thread yesterday, Government sources condemned their release, while claiming that there are 2018 e-mails in which Johnson Smith was harassed by an Opposition senator.

“This is a vile, vulgar attempt to obfuscate the issues. Though these e-mails released by Senator Brown show the aggression directed at Senator Johnson Smith. He should be aware that this is not the total amount of communiqu exchanged,” said one source close to the issue.

“The approach by the PNP to this issue is precisely why the women of this country have such a difficulty reporting abuse, whether mental, emotional or physical. There are those of us who would want Kamina to publish the full e-mail thread and pursue the prosecution of the perpetrator. But that’s her choice,” added the source.

On Tuesday a police source told the Observer that an investigation was launched into the incident which reportedly occurred in “early October of 2018”.

According to the police source, the investigation involved detectives assigned to the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Criminal Investigation Branch and the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse.

“During the investigation, the content of the e-mail would have been examined [and] assessed, and it was established that her discomfort was justified. There was no question that she had reason to be concerned; though the things that were said were not substantive, they could be seen as veiled,” said the police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Johnson Smith, during last Friday’s sitting of the Senate, said that she had notified the police of threatening e-mail sent to her by a member of the Opposition; it was investigated and the name and information of the alleged perpetrator revealed to her.

However, she said that she did not make the matter public, as she was concerned about the effect of the revelation at that time.

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