01/12/2012 05:20 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Bartholomew death won't hurt tourism but police review needed, minister says

ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada - The death of a visitor in police custody is unlikely to affect the country's economically dominant tourism industry, but alleged police misconduct is an issue that needs to be addressed, Grenada's tourism minister says.

Some resort operators in the Caribbean island nation have privately expressed fears that the death of Toronto resident Oscar Bartholomew could hurt Grenada's image.

But in an interview, Tourism Minister Peter David — a dual Grenadian-Canadian citizen — said potential visitors would be able to see past the headlines.

"We see it as an aberration really," he said. "I do not think it will have any major impact on tourism."

Prosecutors allege police beat Bartholomew, 39, to death on Boxing Day after an altercation that began when he bear-hugged a policewoman he mistook for a friend.

The incident set almost everyone on the island abuzz, and sparked demonstrations and allegations of endemic police brutality.

David, a criminal lawyer who studied at Carleton University, conceded the issue needs a thorough airing.

"We know that it's not simply this incident," he said. "There were other incidents."

Grenada's economy once relied heavily on its bananas, cocoa, and especially nutmeg and other spices. But hurricane Ivan in 2004 and lost preferential treatment European trade policies have put a serious damper on agriculture.

As a result, tourism accounts for about 25 per cent of Grenada's economy, already feeling the backdraft of the global downturn.

Visitors pump about $220 million a year directly into the lush, largely unspoiled country of 100,000 people about the size of Toronto, located almost a stone's throw from South America.

Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has fended off calls for an independent inquiry. But he has said there would a review of police following the Bartholomew case, which he has called "more or less" isolated.

The accused officers, who face 15 years in prison if convicted, have yet to enter a plea and none of the allegations have been tested in court. The men are expected to be released Friday after posting bail worth about C$38,000 secured by a lien on their property.

The charges will have a "ripple effect" through the police force that abuse of power leads to serious consequences, David said.

While the exact nature of a review was still under discussion, he said there would be some form of thorough look at policing.

The aim would be to ensure systems are put in place to avoid further issues.

In the interim, he said, people should trust the justice system to take its course.

While there were 10 murders on the island last year — roughly six times the Canadian per capita rate — David insisted tourists have nothing to fear.

"Grenada is known as one of safest destinations in the eastern Caribbean," he said.

A lawyer for Bartholomew's family is set to meet the attorney general on Friday, where he will press for the government to admit civil liability in the case as a way to head off a wrongful death lawsuit.

Bartholomew was buried at a huge funeral on Monday.