Scandal: Regiment Commander Brian Gonsalves, second left during a training exercise, admitted on Monday that a soldier had served 58 days in military jail for attempting to rape another soldier at knife-point. *File photo
Scandal: Regiment Commander Brian Gonsalves, second left during a training exercise, admitted on Monday that a soldier had served 58 days in military jail for attempting to rape another soldier at knife-point. *File photo
TUESDAY, FEB. 8: The exemption tribunal that members of Bermudians Against the Draft appeared before was “neither independent nor impartial”, their lawyer said today.

Eugene Johnston argued the anti-conscription activists should have been recognized as “conscientious objectors” by the Defence Exemption Tribunal and let off from serving in the Regiment.

The claims surfaced on the second day of BAD’s latest challenge to compulsory military service, held at the Supreme Court today.

They followed the shock admission on Monday by Regiment Commander Brian Gonsalves that a soldier served 58 days in military jail for attempting to rape another soldier at knife-point in 2005.

Today, the court was told that recruits were forced to urinate in cans and bags and walk through gas tents.

Mr. Johnston described the “abuse” that Lamont Marshall and Jamel Hardtman claimed they witnessed in the Regiment.

This included soldiers being assaulted and undermined by higher-ranking officers.

Mr. Johnston outlined the legal basis upon which three BAD members were bringing the latest challenge to conscription before the courts. He said the draft goes against various articles in the Bermuda Constitution, including freedom of conscience, freedom from forced labour, freedom from torture or degrading treatment and freedom of religion and belief.

The group previously argued conscription breached the Human Rights Act.

They took the case from the Supreme Court all the way to the U.K.’s Privy Council but lost.

Mr. Johnston told the court conscription was comparable with slavery and is an exercise in forced labour.

He said: “Because the Regiment depends on the policy of conscription, it time and time again puts in place the requisite conditions for the mistreatment of persons subjected to compulsory military service.

Harmful

“The applicants make no apology that their belief may make some people uncomfortable.

“Some people who overlook the harmful effects of conscription — we make no apology to them either.

“We also do not apologise for the fact that some in our community do not see the correlation between conscription, forced labour and slavery. They don’t have to.”

The court heard that BAD member Larry Marshall Jnr. went before the tribunal in 2005.

Mr. Johnston suggested that what was supposed to be an independent tribunal included figures who had ties to the Regiment, including Wendell Hollis and Larry Burchall.

Mr. Marshall Jnr. told the tribunal that conscription was unfair and unjust.

He said: “If this is not slavery, then it is the closest thing to it in the 21st century.

“Rest assured that I am prepared to fight this thing to the bitter end.”

His request to be recognized as a conscientious objector was denied.

He was given a year-long deferral to pursue BAD’s initial challenge that went to the Privy Council.

Objectors

Mr. Johnston said the tribunal did not “catch the drift” of the argument and never engaged with the point before them.

He added: “The state is supposed to provide a forum to debate this point.

“The exemption tribunal is neither independent nor impartial.”

Four other members of BAD appeared before the tribunal in November last year claiming to be conscientious objectors but they have all failed.

In the current case, Mr. Johnston is acting on behalf of Larry Marshall Jnr., his brother Lamont Marshall and Jamel Hardtman.

He claims Lamont Marshall and Jamel Hardtman have been denied a fair opportunity to appear before the exemption tribunal.