Government legislative authority to direct measures during COVID-19

Saskatchewan has declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic. The province’s legislative authority to declare this state of emergency can be found under The Emergency Planning Act (the “Act”). Measures taken by the provincial government under the Act can include the introduction of an emergency plan, the control or prohibition of travel within the province and acquiring a resident’s property which is deemed necessary to prevent, combat or alleviate the effects of the emergency (with compensation). A provincial declaration of emergency and any subsequent orders will take precedence over municipal declarations and orders.

The Government of Saskatchewan has introduced amendments to The Saskatchewan Employment Act (“SEA”) and multiple Public Health Orders to combat COVID-19. First, the government has made sick leave under the SEA available to all employees, regardless of how long they have been employed. The government also introduced a new “public health emergency leave”, where employees may go on unpaid leave for the duration the public health orders relating to COVID-19 are in effect. Second, the Minister of Health and Chief Medical Health Officer have the authority to introduce Public Health Orders, pursuant to s. 38 and s. 45(2) of The Public Heath Act, 1994, to combat the transmission of COVID-19. As of March 30, 2020, some examples of such measures include the suspension of all schools and educational institutions and the prohibition of all public gatherings larger than 10 people (with some exceptions in settings where employees/patrons can maintain two-meter distances between one another). All non-essential businesses have been ordered to close and mandatory 14-day self-isolation has been introduced for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have come in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or someone who has travelled internationally. Visitation to care homes and hospitals have been restricted to family or individuals visiting for compassionate reasons. If a Saskatchewan resident or corporation contravenes one of the orders made pursuant to the Act, the provincial government has the power to fine that individual or business $2,000 or $10,000, respectively (see s. 16 of the Act). A full list of the Public Health Orders can be found at: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/health-care-administration-and-provider-resources/treatment-procedures-and-guidelines/emerging-public-health-issues/2019-novel-coronavirus/public-health-measures.

Federally, the Government of Canada has legislative power under the Quarantine Act and Emergencies Act to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the Quarantine Act is to protect the public health by taking comprehensive measures to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. The Quarantine Act grants the power to direct and control international travellers or others at entry or departure points of the country who might have an infectious disease. As of March 26, 2020, the federal government declared mandatory 14-day isolation for any traveller returning to Canada under the Quarantine Act. Fines and jail time will be utilized for those who break the rules.

The Emergencies Act, previously known as the War Measures Act, grants the Government of Canada power to declare four types of emergencies: public welfare, public order, international and war emergencies. Section 8 of the Emergencies Act outlines the exceptional powers granted to the federal government in a public welfare emergency, which the COVID-19 pandemic would classify as. Such powers can include the prohibition of travel to, from or within the country, the evacuation of people, the requisition, use or disposition of a citizen’s property and the establishment of emergency shelters or hospitals. As of March 30, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not declared a public welfare emergency but has indicated that is it not off the table.

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Articles & Research Government legislative authority to direct measures during COVID-19