Navigating Emergency Powers and their Limitations & Protections Against their Arbitrary Use

  • May 05, 2020
  • Domonie Pierre

On March 17, 2020, Ontario issued a Declaration of Emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, on the basis that the outbreak of COVID-19 constituted a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons.

This Declaration was followed by a series of emergency orders which fundamentally altered the way Ontarians lead their lives. For instance, in an effort to control the spread of the virus, Orders were issued closing schools and non-essential businesses, limiting the number of people who could gather, and circumscribing the use of public spaces.

Ontario was not the only province to invoke its emergency powers in response to the unprecedented pandemic. Other provinces and territories also took action to protect their citizens and thwart the spread of COVID-19, relying on their own emergency legislation. At the federal level, the government invoked a number of statutes to control our borders and to provide support during the pandemic. Municipal governments issued emergency orders and by-laws, addressing issues such as physical distancing and outlining penalties for non-compliance, as well as a number of health directives. These actions have all had a profound and direct impact on Canadians, and have led to questions around how and when emergency powers are invoked, and their impact on the freedoms that we enjoy under the Charter.

To help lawyers make sense of this new reality, on March 25, 2020, the Ontario Bar Association hosted a timely and informative webinar on “Emergency Powers and their limitations and protections against their arbitrary use” in the context of COVID-19.