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The Quebec bar association is asking the provincial government to explain why it still needs extraordinary powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Quebec government first declared a state of emergency in March 2020. Since then, the declaration has been renewed every 10 days.

Quebec has unveiled a plan to lift almost all COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March — except for the state of emergency. Health Minister Christian Dube has said the order would remain until a new law is adopted allowing certain emergency measures to stay in force, such as indoor mask mandates and financial bonuses for health-care workers.

The Barreau du Quebec said Monday it’s time the government explain why it still needs emergency powers.

“Does the current situation require keeping the state of emergency?” Catherine Claveau, head of the bar association, wrote in a statement. “Are the measures that will be maintained during the deconfinement plan justified? To answer these questions, the government must provide clear justifications for maintaining some ‘exceptional rules.”’

Over the past two years, the Quebec government has used emergency powers to impose curfews, ban private gatherings and close businesses such as restaurants, bars and gyms. The emergency orders have also been used to impose mandatory overtime on nurses and to cancel health workers’ vacations.

Claveau said the bar association is concerned the state of emergency has been renewed by the health minister, rather than by the province’s legislature. Under Quebec’s Public Health Act, the legislature can renew a state of emergency for 30 days, or the health minister can do it himself or herself for 10 days without the support of other parties.

“The Barreau du Quebec questions this power, which has no time limit attached, nor a mechanism requiring the (legislature) be consulted after a certain period of time. The Barreau believes that a debate must be held on this subject. After two years, are we still in an emergency?”

The four opposition parties in Quebec’s legislature have also criticized the continued state of emergency and called for more debate on pandemic measures.

Meanwhile, Quebec health officials on Monday reported three more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and a rise of 18 COVID-19 patients. The Health Department said 1,776 people are in hospital with the disease, after 101 people were admitted in the preceding 24 hours and 83 were discharged. It said 119 people were in intensive care, an increase of five.

The small rise in COVID-19 patients came as some restrictions in the province were lifted, including the requirement to show proof of vaccination at places of worship. Conferences and other public events were allowed to resume Monday, while arcades, bowling alleys and other recreation centres were allowed to reopen.

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