COVID-19: Exceptional Powers in an Exceptional Situation

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Federal, provincial and municipal governments have announced several recommendations to help manage the coronavirus pandemic. After they issue recommendations, they can also take more restrictive measures to slow the progression of the virus. In this case, governments must follow specific legal rules. 

Declaring a public health emergency

In Quebec, the Public Health Act allows the government to declare a public health emergency for the entire province or part of the territory.

For the government to declare a public health emergency, the threat to public health must be serious and require immediate measures. One of these measures could be prohibiting access to the territory covered by the public health emergency.

Powers of cities

The Civil Protection Act allows a local municipality to declare a local state of emergency over all or part of its territory. To do this, there must be a major disaster, such as a pandemic, which requires immediate action to protect human life, health or physical integrity. Also, the municipality must be unable to manage the disaster using its normal operating rules.

Here are some examples of measures a municipality can take:

  • Control access to the territory concerned.
  • Order people to be confined.
  • Require qualified people to help.

Order a quarantine

In Canada, the Quarantine Act protects public health through measures aimed at preventing the introduction or spread of contagious diseases.

For instance, the government could order measures for people who have travelled outside the country and who want to return to Canada. These measures could include stopping them from entering the country or subjecting them to certain conditions, for example, if a person is coming home after visiting a country affected by a contagious disease and allowing this person into Canada could introduce or spread the disease.

The COVID-19 situation is changing by the hour. Visit the Government of Canada’s website to learn about quarantine measures in effect.