Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will do whatever is necessary to ensure people are no longer congregating in groups during the coronavirus pandemic, warning that “nothing is off the table.”
He stopped short of saying Ottawa is willing to invoke the federal Emergencies Act, formerly the War Measures Act, but said Canada is determined to enforce social distancing.
Mr. Trudeau said it’s frustrating to see Canadians who still leave their homes to socialize in groups, saying this could endanger others, from the elderly to nurses and doctors.
“If you choose to ignore that advice; if you choose to get together with people or go to crowded places, you’re not just putting yourself at risk, but you’re putting others at risk too,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters at his morning briefing in front of his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
“We’ve all seen the pictures online of people who seem to think they’re invincible. Well, you’re not. Enough is enough. Go home and stay home,” he said.
“And we’re going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks or by enforcing the rules, if needed,” he said.
Asked for details, Mr. Trudeau told reporters: “I can tell you we haven’t taken anything off the table, from the Emergencies Act to new measures or existing measures under the Quarantine Act.”
He said he would prefer Canadians comply without coercion.
Last week the federal government announced an $82-billion package to help Canadians and businesses weather the pandemic.
Mr. Trudeau said the House of Commons will reconvene Tuesday to pass emergency legislation and “put this plan in motion.” There will be a skeleton crew of 32 MPs in the Commons chamber, composed of a proportionate number of members from each party.
Asked whether borders between provinces should be closed, the Prime Minister said he would be talking with the premiers about this later Monday.
Mr. Trudeau was asked why he has so far been reluctant to call on the powerful Emergencies Act to force Canadians to avoid gathering in groups.
He said he would be discussing the Emergencies Act with premiers when they talk by phone later Monday.
He said a central feature of this legislation is that it intrudes into provincial jurisdiction and usurps powers, suggesting Ottawa has to be careful when it takes such a measure.
“One of the key elements of the Emergencies Act is that it’s an override over the provinces. It takes powers that are normally only in the hands of provinces or even municipalities and puts them at the federal level.”
The Prime Minister said Ottawa is trying to co-ordinate its response with the provinces and has been watching as premiers invoke provincial emergency legislation.
“We will certainly be talking about the federal Emergencies Act at the premiers’ meeting … to make sure that we all understand what tools each different order of government has and where we might need to do more.”
Jack Lindsay, chair of Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies at Brandon University in Manitoba, said he doesn’t see how invoking the Emergencies Act would delivery any advantage because declaring a public welfare emergency would grant Ottawa powers that provinces already have.
He said he doesn’t see a situation today where one or more provinces is not taking necessary measures.
“Are you really gaining anything by making the declaration?”
The legislation, which is intended as a last resort, grants Ottawa powers to respond to emergencies of public welfare, public order, international emergencies or war.
A public welfare emergency – the type of emergency that applies to pandemics – does not grant Ottawa the same untrammeled authority that it would be granted if it declared a public order emergency or war emergency.
If Ottawa were to declare a national emergency and invoke the Emergencies Act for a matter of public welfare it would be granted powers such as: regulating or prohibiting travel within Canada; requiring the evacuation of people from an area; or authorizing and making emergency payments.
Ottawa would also be restricted in its use of these public welfare emergency powers: it could not do anything that would unduly impair the ability of provinces to carry out their pandemic response and would have to consult with provinces.
“The legislation says if you exercise these powers nationally you have to do it in co-ordination with what the provinces are doing,” Prof. Lindsay says.
The Emergencies Act also provides for Parliamentary oversight and requires an inquiry to be held afterwards into the circumstances within 360 days.
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