In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Province of Ontario declared a state of emergency pursuant to Order in Council 518/2020 (Ontario Regulation 50/20), which was extended on April 2, 2020. The Province has since made numerous orders under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
To address barrage of legal questions regarding health services faced by health law and elder law practitioners face as our communities are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the OBA Health Law Section collaborated with the Elder Law Section in hosting a priority CPD entitled Health Law Now-Emergency Management, Virtual and In-Person Care and Lessons from SARS, on March 26, 2020. The webcast was chaired by Nida Sohani and Larry Swartz.
We first heard from Kathryn Frelick of Miller Thomson about the public health and emergency management powers at both provincial and federal government levels and she provided an overview of the legislative landscape and addressed the current executive orders put in place in response to the COVID-19 crisis. (Please refer to the list of relevant legislation below.) Ms. Frelick discussed decision-making and legal risk in a public health emergency, as well as strategies for managing risk. She explained that large-scale public health events require significant coordination at all levels of government, which we have seen over the past weeks in Canada and Ontario. SARS (2003) and H1N1 influenza pandemic (2009) prompted significant legislative and policy changes to address federal and provincial emergency management and public health responses. In 2018, the Pan Canadian Public Health Network created a Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events, and provides governance framework and guidance for public health emergencies.
Ms. Frelick noted that the extraordinary circumstances we currently find ourselves in pose significant challenges to healthcare service provides (HSPs), including shortages in trained staff, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other necessary medical supplies such as ventilators, medicines, etc. HSPs have a duty of care to patients and may face vicarious liability from acts of omissions of staff, and must therefore be mindful of their obligations, including ones under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of their employees.