Throughout the pandemic, Alberta has declared three states of emergencies (the last one ended on December 14, 2021). Many municipalities across the province also declared states of local emergency (most of which have ended). And the Canadian government considered whether to take action under Canada’s Emergencies Act.
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Alberta’s State of Public Health Emergency
On March 17, 2020, the Government of Alberta declared a state of public health emergency across the province. The purpose of this state of emergency was to give the Alberta government more control to make decisions for the good of all Albertans. The state of public health emergency expired on June 15th and the government did not renew it. On November 24, 2020, the Government of Alberta declared a second state of public health emergency for 90 days. And they declared a third one on September 15, 2021, also for 90 days.
What does it mean to declare a state of emergency in Alberta?
Alberta’s Public Health Act allows the Lieutenant Governor to declare a ‘state of public health emergency’. The Chief Medical Officer for the province advises the Lieutenant Governor on whether or not to declare one. The Lieutenant Governor must be satisfied that:
- A public health emergency exists or may exist, and
- Immediate coordination of action, or regulation of people or property, is required to protect public health.
The state of public health emergency can apply to the whole province or parts of it.
The order declaring the state of public health emergency must say what the emergency is and where the order applies.
What happens during a state of emergency? What power does the government have?
Government ministers have the power to make certain decisions without consultation. A government minister responsible for a law can make an order suspending or changing all or part of the law if the law is not in the public interest (during the emergency). For example, the Minister of Education could make an order changing the Education Act during the emergency. The Minister of Finance can make orders about budget or tax laws, such as deferring payments otherwise owing.
The Public Health Act says that, during a state of emergency, the government can:
- Acquire or use any real or personal property
- Permit or require a qualified person to give aid to another person
- Authorize conscriptions to meet the emergency (such as people for the military)
- Allow any person to enter any building or land without a warrant
- Distribute essential health and medical supplies
- Provide, maintain and coordinate the delivery of health services
When does a state of emergency end?
A state of emergency for pandemic influenza ends 90 days after it starts. All other states of emergencies end 30 days after they start. The Lieutenant Governor can also choose to end it sooner.
Any orders made by government ministers under the state of emergency can last for up to 60 days after the state of emergency ends.
States of Local Emergency
Each city or town has authority to declare a state of local emergency over its residents. This authority is set out in section 21 of Alberta’s Emergency Management Act.
In response to COVID-19, many towns and cities in Alberta declared states of local emergency though most have ended. Check your municipality’s website for more information.
What is a state of local emergency?
When a city or town declares a state of local emergency, the local government can take actions to combat the emergency. This might include restricting certain activities, spending money, etc.
The declaration of the state of local emergency must say what the emergency is and where the declaration applies.
A state of local emergency ends 7 days after it starts unless the municipality cancels it earlier or renews it.
The Government of Canada can declare a state of emergency if there is a national emergency. The purpose of state of emergency is to give the federal government more control to make decisions for the good of all people. The Emergencies Act governs federal states of emergencies.
Canada has not yet declared a state of emergency with respect to COVID-19, but the government has said it is always evaluating the current situation.
What is a ‘national emergency’?
Canada’s Emergencies Act defines a national emergency as an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature. The situation must be one of the following:
- It must seriously endanger the lives, health or safety of Canadians and be so severe that the provinces cannot properly deal with it.
- It must seriously threaten Canada’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity (such as a threat of war).
The emergency must also be such that no other law in Canada can effectively deal with it. When a national emergency is declared, the government can take special measures to deal with the emergency.
There are four different types of national emergencies:
- Public welfare emergencies: an emergency caused by natural disaster (fire, flood, drought, storm, earthquake, etc.), disease (in human beings, animals or plans), or an accident or pollution. The emergency can be real or a threat. The emergency must cause or threaten to cause serious danger to life or property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources.
- Public order emergencies: an emergency arising from threats to Canada’s security. This could mean spying or sabotage, foreign influenced activities, acts or threats of acts of serious violence for political, religious or ideological purposes, or threats to overthrow the government.
- International emergencies: an emergency involving Canada and one or more other countries arising from intimidation or coercion or real or threats of service force or violence.
- War emergencies: war or other armed conflict (real or threatened) involving Canada or any of its allies.
Do I still have rights during a national emergency?
The Act says that the Governor in Council is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights when taking special temporary measures.
What is a public welfare emergency?
It is an emergency caused by natural disaster (fire, flood, drought, storm, earthquake, etc.), disease (in human beings, animals or plans), or an accident or pollution. The emergency can be real or a threat. The emergency must cause or threaten to cause serious danger to life or property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources.
The Governor in Council can declare a public welfare emergency. The declaration must say what the emergency is, the special measures that are necessary to deal with the emergency, and the area of Canada it affects. The declaration comes into effect on the date of the declaration. It ends 90 days later, unless it is cancelled earlier or extended.
What happens during a public welfare emergency? What power does the government have?
The Governor in Council can take the following steps that they consider reasonable to deal with the emergency:
- Regulating or prohibiting travel to, from or within a certain area to protect the health or safety of people
- Evacuating people and removing property from a certain area, and arranging for care and protection of those people and property
- Claiming, using or getting rid of property
- Authorizing or directing certain qualified people to provide essential services to others
- Regulating how essential goods, services and resources are distributed and made available
- Authorizing and making emergency payments
- Establishing emergency shelters and hospitals
- Assessing damage to any infrastructure or repairing or replacing it
- Assessing damage to the environment and eliminating or minimizing that damage
- Imposing fines or prison terms for not following any measures imposed
Last updated: December 2021