Many adages exist about getting things right the second time. However, many people know that life is often not about second chances.
Yesterday, I read Senator A. J. Nicholson’s full, second apology for his recent ‘flexi-rape’ comment during a Senate debate, made in a long letter to the Senate President. It said everything that needed to be said, and more–it had the formality and fulsomeness of contrition and sincerity, which his first apology lacked, which he acknowledged fully. I’m not going to analyse it beyond that.
The second apology may go down as a template of how public pressure can make politicians understand fully what people don’t tolerate and how to address their own offensive actions and words. It could be copied by a growing list of politicians, who show an arrogance and contempt for the population that verges on bring nauseating.
In an ideal world, the second apology would be essential reading for any budding public official.
Read it in full, yourself.
On Friday, October 31, whilst Senator Malahoo-Forte was making her presentation in the debate on the Flexible Working Arrangements Bill in this chamber, I muttered some fateful words from my seat.
My initial failure promptly to withdraw that awkward and insensitive remark has been greatly frowned upon. A three paragraph apology issued by me the next day seems to have been rejected by the wider society. My conduct has provoked considerable controversy. The view has been taken that my eventual withdrawal and apology lacked sincerity.
In the result, I wish today and for the record, first to restate my apology for allowing those most unfortunate words to fall from my lips; second for my hesitancy in recanting and last, for issuing what, I now agree was not a sufficiently full apology.
It is my devout hope that before I sit, I will have been able to convince my peers as well as the country, especially our women, that I am truly sorry on all three accounts. For despite my raiments, I am covered in sackcloth and ashes. I seek forgiveness even as I pray that the controversy will be put to peaceable rest.
Now Mr. President rape is certainly no joke. It provides no occasion for amusement or thoughtless banter. It is a grievous crime with which Jamaica
and indeed the entire civilized world have grappled from the earliest times.
In fact the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has recognized that rape and all forms of violence against women generally, are so pervasive and reprehensible that it adopted Resolution 1994/45 of that year affirming its abhorrence of those atrocities, by the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.
Mr. President: I rendered the longest direct service in our history as Attorney General of Jamaica for 12 plus years. It was with a clear understanding and appreciation of the gravity of the matter of women’s rights that in the capacity of Attorney General, I chaired the Joint Select Committees established by Parliament to tender proposals for enhancing the protection of women and the advancement of women’s rights. The Family Property (Rights of Spouses) Act, the Sexual Offences Act, now being re-examined, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were all crafted with the benefit of input from those Committees.
Mr. President, like your good self, I was socialized to be especially respectful and protective of women and girls; to place them on a pedestal and give them pride of tender place. We were all brought up to recognize and acknowledge that rape is a most horrific act of violence – a dreadfully demeaning and absolutely intolerable experience.
Thus, our criminal law has long reserved a very harsh regime of condign punishment for perpetrators convicted of the offence of rape. Moreover, it is within living memory that that regime at one time included whipping at the beginning and at the end of related terms of imprisonment. That particular incident was popularly called “lash in” and “lash out”!
Do permit me to say Mr. President that it was therefore uncharacteristic of me, fortunately a happily married family man, to make fun or light of what is clearly a very, very serious matter. Although I intended no disrespect, I was plainly and terribly wrong in what I said and thoughtlessly. I repeat: I displayed lamentable insensitivity. For this painful error I beg that all concerned persons will be good enough to accept the profound and unqualified apology which I tender today.
By way of partial amends, I intend to demonstrate and thereby underscore the extent of my remorse by participating in whatever way that I can, and otherwise to associate myself, with the activities related to this year’s celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, next Tuesday November 25.
Mr. President, in addition to my broad apology to our womenfolk at home and abroad, I wish to seize this opportunity, by your leave and through you, to make reference in an especial way to Senator Malahoo Forte. I reaffirm that by my clumsy attempt at humour I meant not the slightest affront, to her or to anyone else.
Secondly, to you Mr. President and, both sides of this honourable Senate, I proffer my unreserved apology for my unbecoming behaviour. Ours is the highest limb of the Legislature and our conduct in here should be exemplary in all respects. When therefore, an error of judgment such as I made is pointed out, the proper thing to do is to recant and make amends.
The record shows that initially I put myself in a quandary and resisted suggestions that I should withdraw the remark. For this also and with utmost sincerity, I say that I am sorry. This Chamber deserved better, has received better from me, and will witness no such repetition by me.
Thirdly, please do permit me to extend this apology Sir, to the Prime Minister who sits in the other place, and to the political party which I proudly represent. My remark and behavior, particularly as the Leader of Government Business in this place, brought me into direct conflict with the tenets, principles and practices of the People’s National Party. I assure all the world that I shall not err in this unguarded way ever again – not even under the breath, let alone sotto voce.
Finally Mr. President, I embrace my dear wife and family in these sentiments. I have come to share the ordeal they have had to undergo by reason of my churlish conduct.
Consonant with these apologies, I recommit myself to continue striving for the perpetual elevation of the women of Jamaica and the world to their rightfully high and respected station, not only at the workplace, but at all levels of civilized society.
Thank you, Mr. President.
However, life is about actions not words, and Senator Nicholson has now to take the actions to which he has committed himself, and he knows that ultimately this will form the basis on which history will judge him.