COVID-19: Emergency Legislation and Orders

This post contains neither legal advice nor a guarantee, warranty or prediction in outcome. You should contact a lawyer for specific legal advice to your circumstances. This post appears on Naomi's TikTok and Instagram. There are some differences with additional information below. This is a generally summary of emergency legislation and orders in Canada with highlights from Ontario and Alberta, including Indigenous communities.

Naomi provides a high level outline of emergency legislation and orders during COVID-19.
COVID-19: Emergency Legislation and Orders

What is emergency legislation?

Emergency legislation exists to help governments manage emergencies, the public welfare or generally, the public health. There are several provincial emergency powers which exist in emergency legislation, or in public health legislation (see, for example, Alberta's declaration of public health emergency), among other legislation.

What does a government need to do to trigger emergency legislation?

To trigger emergency legislative powers, governments must declare an emergency under the appropriate legislation. In Ontario, the Cabinet (think, "Ministers") makes the orders unless the premier makes an order alone if urgency and immediacy requires it. This premier-alone emergency order expires after 72 hours if it is not confirmed by Cabinet. In Alberta, the government declared a public health emergency under its public health legislation. Cities can also declare states of emergency and trigger their broad bylaw making powers to manage emergencies, similar to Toronto. First Nations often declare local states of emergencies in their communities and some have done so during COVID-19. There are broad constitutional law powers that permit each different level or type (i.e. First Nations) of government to deal with their local issues.

Why are there are so many different emergency responses?

When COVID-19 started to become more of a concern in Canada, there was discussion about federal emergency legislation being triggered. The federal legislation, Emergencies Act, is an Act that permits the federal government to take "special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies". This legislation could be triggered if the efforts described above (federal, provincial, municipal or First Nations) could be viewed as insufficient or inadequate in managing the emergency, namely COVID-19. It is better to have a localized response, as opposed to a top-down response that is isolated from its context, and as a result, there may appear to be many different responses. There are some limits on emergency orders, particularly Charter limits. You can view some tips on interactions with officers here if you are stopped by officers relying on these orders.