Emergencies Act

Canada isn’t invoking the Emergencies Act just yet

The legislation would give the federal government “extraordinary powers.”

UPDATED: After sending a letter to provincial and territorial premiers on Thursday to consult about invoking the Emergencies Act, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated in his Friday morning briefing that the invocation of the act due to the COVID-19 pandemic remains a last resort. 

“I can tell you that the cooperation continues and is improving between the provinces,” said Trudeau. “This is a historic moment where all the provinces and territories are working together. We are looking at the situation in case we have to invoke [the Emergencies Act]. At this time we do not need it, and we hope we won’t need it. But the way our country works is the provinces have Emergency Measures Acts that they have enacted, and if those acts do not suffice, the federal government has its own legislation that can be added on. But for the time being it is not necessary and we all hope that it will not be necessary.”

Consultation with the provinces and review by Parliament are required before the act can be triggered. There was speculation that the emergency legislation would be debated when Parliament convened on Saturday, but the sole purpose of that sitting was to pass the $73-billion wage subsidy package.

The Emergencies Act was created in 1988 as a replacement for the War Measures Act. It has never been invoked. Considered to be “the stiffest government emergency powers of any emergency law in Canada,” the act allows the federal government to:

Regulate or prohibit travel within any area within the country;

Evacuate people and remove or requisition personal property;

Direct any person to render essential services they are qualified to provide;

Regulate the distribution of essential goods and resources;

Make emergency payments and compensate those who experience loss as a result of actions taken under the Act;

Impose fines between $500 and $5,000 or jail time between six months and five years for contravening any order or rule set under the Act.

Any temporary laws made under the act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, therefore any suspension of civil rights in Canada, even in an emergency, will be subject to the “reasonable and justified” test. ■

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