Canadians urged to exercise caution during state of emergency in Montego Bay
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, January 19, 2018 7:42AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 19, 2018 2:22PM EST
Jamaican officials say they needed to impose a state of emergency in the area surrounding Montego Bay in order to control a spate of gang violence gripping the popular tourist destination that is endangering public safety.
The Canadian government is warning travellers seeking sun there to “exercise a high degree of caution.”
Jamaican authorities imposed a military lockdown in St. James parish on Thursday, following 335 murders in 2017, twice the tally of any other parish.
Maj. Gen. Antony Anderson, Jamaica’s national security advisor, told CTV News Channel Friday that the number of shootings and murders has been growing for some time, but most markedly in the last year. He says much of the problem is outside the tourist mecca of Montego Bay and that “Jamaica is still open for business.”
Anderson said much of the crime is driven by conflicts between criminal groups over control of the highly lucrative lottery scamming trade, drug movements and general turf wars. When the gangs clash, innocent people get caught up, too, said Anderson.
The state of emergency gives police and military forces “more freedom of action.”
“For instance, they can do searches without a warrant, so if they get information that something is occurring somewhere, they can respond rapidly to it. They can respond to a series of intelligence-driven operations to target and capture the people who are doing these things and generally disrupt the gangs in their activities.”
The lockdown also allows for detaining suspects beyond normal laws and setting up checkpoints to stop and search vehicles and people.
“What it does, in fact, … is create a safer environment.”
He said the immediate hope is to halt the slide into violence and then create a lasting result.
“Military forces have been deployed to the area in an attempt to stabilize the situation,” reads a safety and security notice posted by Travel Canada.
“If you are staying at a resort in the affected area, restrict your movements beyond resort security perimeters. If you do travel outside these perimeters, use transportation arranged or provided by the resort. Use organized tour operators for excursions and travel to and from the airport. If you are in the affected area, be extremely vigilant, follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor local news.”
Under the state of emergency, security forces will have “extraordinary powers and some rights will be suspended,” said Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a statement.
“The people in Montego Bay, especially, are very distressed by what they see playing out on their streets. But this will take great understanding and tolerance from the people,” Holness said during a press conference.
Authorities also have imposed a curfew in parts of St. Catherine parish located just west of the capital of Kingston.