Michael Watts, Susan Newell, Amanda Arella
Mar 17, 2020
Updated Apr 3, 2020
The government of Ontario announced on March 17, 2020 that it made an order declaring a state of emergency in response to coronavirus (COVID-19). Under s. 7.0.1(1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the Premier may declare a state of emergency if in his opinion there is an emergency that requires immediate action to prevent, reduce or mitigate a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to people or property in the province.
All provinces in Canada have now declared a state of emergency and/or state of public health emergency. The governments of Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec have announced states of public health emergency. The governments of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have declared a state of emergency. The government of British Columbia has declared both a state of emergency and a state of public health emergency.
Current measures by the Ontario government
As a result of the state of emergency, the Ontario government declared that all public libraries, recreational facilities, private schools, licensed child care centres, bars and restaurants that do not provide takeout are legally required to close immediately. Publicly funded schools were ordered to remain closed from March 15 until Friday, May 1 for teachers and until Monday, May 4 for students.
On March 22, the Ontario government announced plans to exempt certain child care centres from the order to close all licensed child care centers in order to support health care and frontline workers during this COVID-19 outbreak.
On March 23, the government ordered all non-essential businesses to close. For more information on this measure, please see our post, “Provincial governments restrict business operations in the fight against COVID-19”.
On March 28, the government issued a new emergency order prohibiting all organized public events over five people, including parades and services within places of worships. This order does not apply to private households with five or more people, or to child care centres supporting COVID-19 response frontline workers. Funerals will be limited to 10 people.
On March 28, the government issued a new order to protect consumers from unfair pricing on necessary goods.
On March 31, the government ordered the closure of all outdoor recreational facilities such as playgrounds and sports fields.
Throughout the state of emergency, the government has put in place measures to redeploy capacity in the healthcare sector. For more information, please see our post, “COVID-19 Emergency Orders – Extraordinary Work Deployment Measures in Health Service Providers and Long-term Care Homes in Ontario”. On March 30, the government issued a directive regarding personal protective equipment for frontline nurses during the pandemic, in addition to a new order to streamline care in long-term care homes to meet the needs of residents.
The state of emergency will remain in place until April 14, unless the order is terminated earlier. The initial order was in place until March 31, and was extended by Premier Ford on March 30.
Powers under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (Ontario)
Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (Ontario), the government has the power to:
- Implement any emergency plans formulated by municipalities or provincial government bodies;
- Regulate or prohibit personal travel and movement;
- Evacuate individuals and animals and remove personal property from any specified area, while making arrangements for the adequate care and protection of individuals and property;
- Establish emergency shelters and hospitals;
- Close public and private buildings, including any businesses, offices, schools or hospitals;
- Construct or restore necessary facilities, and appropriate, use or dispose of property to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of the emergency;
- Collect, transport, store, process and dispose of any type of waste;
- Authorize facilities, including electrical generating facilities, to operate as is necessary to respond to or alleviate the effects of the emergency;
- Distribute, make available and use any necessary goods, services and resources within any part, and establish centres for their distribution;
- Procure necessary goods, services and resources;
- Fix prices for necessary goods, services and resources, and prohibit charging unconscionable prices for necessary goods, services and resources;
- Authorize any person, or class of persons, to render services of a type that that person, or a person of that class, is reasonably qualified to provide. The government may not make orders requiring a person or class of persons to render such services.
- Require that any person collect, use or disclose information that in the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor in Council may be necessary in order to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of the emergency. The legislation includes safeguards to ensure the information is used solely in the context of responding to the effects of the emergency and to protect personal information when the declared emergency has ended; and
- Take other actions or measures as the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers necessary in order to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of the emergency that are consistent with the powers authorized within the legislation.
Emergency legislation across Canada
Federally, the Emergencies Act is a statute that enables the government of Canada to declare a state of national emergency. In cases of a public welfare emergency, a natural disaster, disease or accident, the federal government may enact similar orders to those permitted under the Ontario legislation. Other provinces have similar emergency legislation. Other provinces have taken steps to close public and private spaces and limit large gatherings. At the time of writing, Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec have announced a similar state of public health emergency. In addition to a state of public health emergency, British Columbia has declared a state of emergency, as has Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. Several municipalities have also declared local states of emergency, including, for example London, Ontario and Calgary and Red Deer, Alberta, closing all recreation and cultural facilities.
We have confirmed that the federal government and the Ontario government have an emergency plan in place. Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (Ontario), every municipality in Ontario is required to develop and implement an emergency management program. By way of example, please view the City of Toronto’s emergency plan to consider how it may impact your business.
As the response to COVID-19 is evolving rapidly, from a business continuity perspective, we encourage everyone to continue to stay informed as new developments arise. We have centralized relevant content on our “Coronavirus: Navigating legal implications and business impacts” client communication page.
 The Lieutenant Governor in Council also has the power to declare that an emergency exists in Ontario. The Premier’s power to declare that an emergency exists in Ontario applies if in the Premier’s opinion the urgency of the situation requires that an order be made immediately.
 Supra note 1 at s. 7.02(4).