Of late, there has been quite a bit of chatter about the appointment of North Andros principal Stephen Sands to his post, particularly in the wake of the revelation that he had been convicted of the manslaughter of his girlfriend in a domestic violence dispute more than 30 years ago. Mr Sands served eight years in prison for that crime and has since put himself through college, eventually becoming a public school teacher in 1996. The recent condemnation of Mr Sands has, in my opinion, been wholly unfair and is seemingly indicative of disbelief by some Bahamians in the power of redemption and reformation.
Frankly, it appears that the out-and-out condemnation of Sands has been an unnecessary, most unfortunate witch-hunt. Quite honestly, when one starts to dig-up dirt on people in this country, one could quickly find that none of us is without sin—in some capacity or the other in our respective lives. I do not say that to justify Mr Sands’ crime; however, I do recognize that hypocrisy often reigns supreme among some of my countrymen.
Let me state that I do not know nor have I ever met Stephen Sands. However, I think that Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald has been wisely measured in his approach to the situation in refusing to absolutely write off a man who had committed and been convicted of the crime of manslaughter three decades ago. By all accounts, since striving to educate himself and thereafter entering the public service, Sands has rendered meritorious and exemplary service. Indeed, he did what many would refer to as a terribly dreadful act when he killed the mother of his children all those years ago. However, his children have seemingly forgiven him (by their public statements in defence of their dad) and he should be given a second chance. Based on all I’ve heard, he deserves it.
Yes, as a father, I understand and deeply appreciate the concerns about having a convicted man at the helm of one of our nation’s public schools but, let’s be real…..whilst Mr Sands might have been caught and convicted, there are so many other persons who are perpetually corrupt, thieving, conniving and criminal-like who hold key positions in government, but they have either not been caught, not been convicted or are simply too connected to ever be charged for anything. Frankly, many Bahamians share the view that there are some people who literally and figuratively get away with murder!
If many holders of high office were properly vetted, how many would be found wanting? How many of the nation’s leaders and top politicians have been investigated, charged and/or condemned by Commissions of Inquiry?
Whilst I would never attempt to justify Mr Sands’ killing of his girlfriend, one recognizes that he was charged with manslaughter which essentially means that the overriding intent was not to cause death, when contrasted to the intent needed for a crime to be deemed a murder (see section 289 of the Bahamas’ Penal Code contrasted to section 290).
Was Mr Sands charged with a crime against a child? Is he a convicted paedophile? Based on published reports, the answer to both questions is no. So, when I hear folks seeking to compare Mr Sands’ crime to disgraced pastor Randy Fraser, I find the comparison faulty. The difference between Stephen Sands and Randy Fraser is that when one looks at the crime of Sands—which could have likely been a crime of passion—it differs from paedophilia and any abuse of a child or a child’s trust.
Any person convicted of any kind of paedophilia, child molestation or sexual assault should never be allowed to teach or interact on an interpersonal level and in a position of authority with children. Recently, the Parliament passed a law called Marco’s Law to emotive fanfare. However, since its passage, that law has not been commenced. Frankly, the immediate enactment of such a law would’ve likely prevented Randy Fraser from allowing children within the confines of his newly launched church. What’s more, the announcement by Minister of National Security Bernard Nottage that the law will not retroactively account for convicted sex offenders is nothing short of a crying shame! It should, unquestionably!
Whenever one is applying for a public service job, the form that must be filled out requires one to state whether they have been convicted in a court in the Bahamas or elsewhere and to give particulars of the same. If Mr Sands lied about anything on his application for employment or distorted the facts, then we could have different circumstances arising. However, if he was honest, there is no reason that he should be made to suffer again. To make him suffer again for his crime would simply render this man destitute; it would simply be a horrible injustice!
Are we not a Christian nation? Is one of the hallmarks of Christianity not forgiveness? Has his offspring, born of the union between him and deceased woman, not done the same and done so publicly? It’s easier to forgive someone who has admitted their crime, who has sought to reform themselves and has lived as a dutiful citizen for more than 30 years.
At the end of the day, the minister and the Public Services Commission will have to make a final decision. However, I think that Mr Sands should be allowed to stay on as principal. Yes, he made a gross error in judgment that led to the loss of precious human life. Yet, in the fullness of time he has become a model citizen and he has paid his debt to society. Is that not what restorative justice is about?
The civil service must determine where the line is drawn in the sand relative to the hiring of persons convicted of crimes. I think that the vetting process must closely examine each circumstance for what it is, interviewing and moving through various communities that these persons may hail from and objectively determining if—with the passage of time—these persons have sought to reform themselves.
I am not suggesting that we give free passes to all convicted persons, I am merely saying that we should give second chances to those who deserve it; that we should truly actualize that which is set out in the preamble of the Constitution; that we should examine such circumstances on a case by case basis and then we should render a verdict as to one’s fate. In this case, Mr Sands should remain in his post.
DR HUBERT MINNIS’ MALAYSIAN AIRLINE COMMENT
In recent days, there has been much hullabaloo by politicians and others about a recent statement by FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis. Dr Minnis was speaking to the media and saying that he felt that the PLP government’s performance was atrocious since they won office in 2012. He stated that they were lost and then he seems to have grossly misspoken, likening the government to being as lost as Malaysian airline MH370. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, to Beijing, China, which lost contact with air traffic control on March 8th and has not been heard from since. The Malaysian government has confirmed that the aircraft went down in the Indian Ocean with no survivors. Several countries have been scouring the Indian Ocean looking for the remnants of this plane and the bodies of the passengers/crew (239 people) for more than a month.
Indeed, one could see how Dr Minnis’ comment could be interpreted and even how it could be taken out of context. It was not the best choice of a reference point on his part and seemed insensitive and not well thought-out. However, I think that he misspoke and that he made a mistake in the excitement of the moment. Frankly, considering all the pressing national issues that out country is facing, I think his commentary pales in comparison and is being blown out of proportion. We have much to discuss about our national affairs and our progression as a country.
He has indicated that he misspoke and I believe that in the interest of furthering the national discourse, we should move forward.