What are the COVID-19 Emergency Powers?

With the number of cases of Coronavirus rapidly rising and countries all over the world placing their citizens on strict lockdowns, Canadians are bracing for what will happen next. Canada’s Health Minister has said that the government will utilize “every measure in our toolbox at the Federal level to ensure compliance”. But what does that mean?

The Federal government of Canada has two pieces of legislation, The Emergencies Act and Quarantine Act, that they may rely on during times of emergency. As of April 2020, both pieces of legislation have come into play, placing major restrictions on the lives of Canadians.

The Federal government is now attempting to use this legislation to control protests in Ottawa on February 14 2022, which could set a precedent to control other unwanted public behavior in the further. We must be cautious not to allow the government to rely on these powers anytime the flavor does not meet its day. Protests are part of a healthy democracy, even if they are lengthily, unwanted and inconvenient, so is the cost of cleaning up. Attempting to cut off financial resources through the use of these powers may have limited effect and continue to encourage the validation and use of cryptocurrencies to fund protests now and into the future.

Negotiation, listening and compromise is likely the best solution to resolving the gridlock in Ottawa, like any other conflict. Exercising this power will likely fuel the protestors belief that they are not being heard and could encourage further revolving protests elsewhere, creating the biggest game of Whac-A-Mole.

The government will likely underestimate the ability of this group to reorganize.

The Emergencies Act

The Emergencies Act was enacted in 1988 and covers a wide variety of emergencies, from war time emergencies, to emergencies involving natural disasters and outbreaks of disease. It is a piece of Federal legislation authorizing the government to take special temporary measures in times of emergency in order to ensure the safety and security of Canadians.

The Act may, in necessary circumstances, override other already existing pieces of legislation and utilize measures that would not otherwise by appropriate during non-emergency times. While the government may utilize special temporary measures, these measures may not contravene the Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and must have regard for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is an international treaty.

Global News Morning Show: COVID-19 Social Distancing Laws.

CTV News Vancouver: Quarantine Act and COVID-19.

Legal Information

Types of Emergencies

The Emergencies Act outlines four different categories of emergencies. They include public welfare emergencies, public order emergencies, international emergencies and war emergencies.

In the context of the protests in Ottawa, should the government invoke the Emergencies Act, it is likely that a public order emergency will be declared.

Public Order Emergencies

A public emergency, as outlined in section 16 of the Emergencies Act, is an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada that are so serious as to be a national emergency. Canada’s Governor in Council may declare a public order emergency if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that a public order emergency exists that requires the taking of special measures on a temporary basis.

The declaration must specifically outline the state of affairs that has necessitated the declaration, the special temporary measures that the government plans to take, and if the effects of the emergency do not extend to all of Canada, which regions of Canada are affected by the emergency. Once the declaration has been made, it will remain in effect for 30 days, or until it is canceled or continued by the Federal government.

Once the declaration has been made and is in effect, the federal government may regulate or prohibit any public assembly that may reasonably be expected to disturb the peace, travel within a certain region or travel into or out of a certain region, and the use of specified property.

The government may also designate and secure protected places, assume control of, restore and maintain public services and utilities, authorize or direct any individual or class of individuals that are competent to render essential services to any other individual or class of individuals, and provide reasonable compensation for the services rendered.

Contravention of an Order made under the Act

Those who contravene an order made under the Emergencies Act may be charged with a criminal offence. Those convicted of a summary conviction offence will face a maximum of six months in prison and/or a fine not exceeding $500. Those convicted of an indictable offence face a maximum of five years in prison and/or up to a $5,000 fine.

Effect of Expiry or Revocation of Public Order Emergency

Once the public order emergency has expired or been revoked by the government, all order and regulations made pursuant to the declaration of the public order emergency cease to be in effect.

Continuation of an Order

At the end of the 30 day period, if the Governor in Council has not revoked the order, they may continue the order. The order may only be continued if the public order emergency still exists and requires extraordinary measures to remedy.

Prior to continuing the declaration of the order, the Governor in Council must review all current orders to determine, on reasonable grounds, if the emergency still exists. If the emergency does not still exist, or certain measures are no longer required to deal with the existing emergency, the Governor in Council may revoke or amend the order.

The Quarantine Act

The Quarantine Act was enacted in 2005 to protect public health in Canada by taking comprehensive measures to prevent the introduction or spread of communicable diseases. The Act is meant to give the Federal government power over the Provinces to ensure public health issues are handled with continuity throughout Canada.

The Quarantine Act gives Canada’s Health Minister an array of discretionary powers including the power to designate screening officers, environmental health officers, quarantine officers, designated review officers, to establish quarantine centers anywhere in Canada or order that an existing facility be designated as a quarantine facility, among many other powers.

With the Coronavirus spreading at a rapid rate, Canadian’s are already bound by, and may soon be subject to additional regulations and obligations outlined in the Act. It’s important to remember that neither of these two pieces of legislation will suspend a person’s rights upon arrest.

The Quarantine Act outlines the various obligations on travelers coming into and leaving Canada during a virus outbreak. Section 15(1) of the Act states that every traveler shall answer any relevant questions asked by a screening or quarantine officer. Travelers also have a duty to disclosure any communicable diseases they are aware of upon entering or exiting Canada. If a traveler has indicated that they may have a communicable disease, screening officers may place the traveler in isolation until the traveler can be assessed by a quarantine officer.

Any traveler who refuses to comply with the instructions of a screening officer or a quarantine officer may be arrested by a peace officer without a warrant if there is reasonable grounds to believe that the traveler has refused to be isolated or has refused to comply with any reasonable measure ordered by a screening or quarantine officer.

In addition to ordering an individual to be arrested, quarantine officers also have the power under the Act to require a traveler to undergo a health assessment. If a quarantine officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a traveler may have a communicable disease or was in close contact with someone who has or may have a communicable disease, the traveler has refused to undergo screening or the traveler has refused to comply with a reasonable order made by a screening or quarantine officer, the traveler may be required to undergo a medical assessment. Such an assessment must be completed as soon as practicable or within 48 hours.

Once a medical assessment has been completed, if there is reason to believe the traveler does in fact have a communicable disease, the quarantine officer may order the traveler to comply with a certain line of treatment or any other measure to prevent the spread of the disease. If a traveler fails to comply with such an order, the quarantine officer may request an arrest warrant be issued under the Criminal Code and have the individual arrested and forcibly placed in quarantine. Essentially, if a traveler fails to follow the orders given by a quarantine officer, they may be placed under arrest.

Emergency Orders Under the Quarantine Act

During times of emergency, the Governor in Council may make an order prohibiting, or imposing conditions on any class of persons who has been to a foreign country or a specific part of a foreign country, from entering Canada if the Governor is of the opinion that; there is an outbreak of a communicable disease in that country, the introduction or spread of the disease would pose an imminent and severe risk to public health in Canada, the entry of members of that class into Canada may introduce or spread the disease in Canada, and there are no reasonable alternatives to prevent the introduction or spread of the disease. Essentially, the Governor may prohibit Canadian’s from entering Canada if they have traveled to a part of the world where there is an outbreak of a communicable disease, and the Governor believes allowing the person entry would introduce or spread the communicable disease in Canada. The Governor may also make orders prohibiting or placing conditions on the importing of goods from potentially affected regions into Canada during emergency times.

Penalties for Breaching the Quarantine Act

In addition to outlining additional powers available to the Federal government during times of emergency, the Quarantine Act also enumerates a list of offences under the Act and their corresponding punishments.

The Act makes it an offence to:

  • Enter a quarantine facility without authorization
  • Leave a quarantine facility without authorization
  • Obstruct or hinder an officer’s ability to carry out their duties under the Act or make any false or misleading statement to an officer

An individual who is found to have intentionally breached the act, causing a risk of imminent death or bodily harm to another person, will be liable on summary conviction to a maximum of six months’ imprisonment and/or a $300,000 fine. In more serious cases, on indictment, an individual will be liable to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and/or a one million dollar fine.

By enacting these emergency powers, the Federal government has been able to ensure the virus outbreak is handled with continuity on a national level, which has helped slow the spread and flatten the curve. These measures have been put in place to ensure Canadians abide by social distancing rules, to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians.

In addition to Federal emergency powers, the Provincial governments have also utilized emergency orders to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19. More information on social distancing regulations in Ontario can be found here.

416-DEFENCE | 416-333-3623