Ottawa is reviewing powers contained in the Emergencies Act to see if there are additional actions it should take to protect Canadians in its fight against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
In an address to the country outside of his home, Mr. Trudeau said the federal government is examining whether the use of the legislation is necessary and if there are “other ways that will enable us to take the actions needed to protect people.”
With the number of cases of coronavirus in Canada on the rise, Ottawa is exploring the use of temporary measures designed to ensure "safety and security during national emergencies and times of crisis.”
Legal and public-health experts have said the government could use the act to declare what is known as a “public welfare emergency."
The legislation outlines such an emergency can be called when “on reasonable grounds” a public welfare emergency exists and there is the need to take special temporary measures to deal with it.
At a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said turning to the Emergencies Act would constitute a “last resort."
“It is a very serious step, which grants extraordinary powers to the federal government,” Ms. Freeland said.
Ottawa would never introduce it without careful consideration with the provinces, she said, adding it is “very carefully” looking at it.
On Tuesday, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. followed Prince Edward Island and Quebec in declaring states of emergency. Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos wouldn’t say what impact those provincial declarations would have on Ottawa, but reiterated that the federal government is consulting with other governments on the option.
Dr. Colleen Flood, professor at the University of Ottawa and a research chair in health law and policy, said Tuesday the federal government may wish to declare an emergency in order to authorize and make emergency payments and establish emergency shelters and hospitals.
In a statement, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the federal government should use the “utmost restraint” in considering using the act, adding it grants “exceptional powers.”
Mr. Trudeau, who is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the virus last week, acknowledged Tuesday the crisis could play out for an unknown period.
“We will make sure that Canadians are able to hold through this difficult time,” he said.
“We don’t know exactly how long this is going to take, whether it will take weeks or months. But we know that every step of the way we will be there to support each other.”
Canadians can make choices to help those around them, particularly the most vulnerable, Mr. Trudeau said, pointing to the advice of Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, on taking precautions such as social distancing.
“As much as possible, stay home,” he said. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house."
A visibly emotional Health Minister Patty Hajdu also urged Canadians on Tuesday to check in on each other during this time.
“Check in with vulnerable people by phone," she said.
"There are scared people, there are lonely people, there are frightened people and it doesn’t take a lot to reach out to them, and say that you’re with them, even in spirit, to ask what they might need.”
Canada has seen a “substantial increase” in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past several days, she said, adding the upsurge is what public-health officials have in mind when they say the window to stop the spread, or flatten the curve, is narrowing quickly.
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