Factbox: Canada's emergency act, used only once in peacetime, would bolster federal powers


  • World
  • Wednesday, 18 Mar 2020

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday he was closely examining whether to invoke the rarely used 1988 Emergencies Act, which would allow Ottawa to override the provinces and restrict the movement of people and goods.

The legislation, previously known as the War Measures Act, has been used only three times in Canadian history: during the two world wars and in 1970 by Trudeau's father, the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, after militant Quebec separatists kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial Cabinet minister.

Using the act would be "a measure of last resort," Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said. Ontario and Alberta both declared states of emergency on Tuesday.

Errol Mendes, professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa, said the Emergencies Act would be invoked only if the situation gets very bad.

"If there are shortages, or if there is a need to move people away from hot zones to other zones, or to lock down a city, then it could be used," he said. It could also be invoked "if there are supply shortages in certain things," he said.

Here are details:

- By invoking the act, the federal government can authorise special temporary measures, including domestic travel restrictions, to ensure safety and security during national emergencies anywhere in the country.

- A declaration of a public welfare emergency allows the government to regulate the distribution of essential goods, decide what are essential services and impose fines on violations of the act.

- The act sets out a compensation scheme for those who suffer damages as a result of its application.

- Invoking it requires parliamentary review.

- Any temporary laws made under the act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That means any attempt by the government to suspend the civil rights of Canadians, even in an emergency, can be challenged in court.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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