On March 17, the Government of Ontario announced that it was taking decisive action by making an order declaring an emergency under s 7.0.1 (1) the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA). In doing so, Ontario is using every power possible to continue to protect the health and safety of all individuals and families.
“We are facing an unprecedented time in our history,” said Premier Ford. “This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions. We are taking this extraordinary measure because we must offer our full support and every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of COVID-19. The health and well-being of every Ontarian must be our number one priority.”
The provincial EMCPA defines an emergency as “a situation or an impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise.”
The result of this declaration and its associated orders was that certain establishments are legally required to immediately close. These include all facilities providing indoor recreational programs; all public libraries; all private schools as defined in the Education Act; all licensed child care centres; all bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery; all theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and Concert venues. Malls and office buildings, for now, will remain open.
Furthermore, all organized public events of over 50 people are also prohibited. This includes parades, events and communal services within places of worship. These orders were approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and will remain in place until March 31, 2020, at which point they will be reassessed and considered for extension, unless this order is terminated earlier.
Ford urged everyone to remain calm and said grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and workplaces such as offices and construction sites would continue to operate. The order does not apply to most retailers, or malls, at least for now. “This is not a provincial shutdown,” he said.
According to the act, a state of emergency can only last up to 14 days. If necessary, the province’s lieutenant governor can extend it by another 14 days, before the initial state of emergency is terminated.
“We are acting on the best advice of our Chief Medical Officer of Health and other leading public health officials across the province,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “We know these measures will affect people’s everyday lives, but they are necessary to ensure that we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our people. We’re working with all partners across the system, from public health to hospitals and community care, to do everything we can to contain this virus and ensure that the system is prepared to respond to any scenario.”
Alberta and British Columbia have also declared states of emergency, on Saturday March 14 and Monday March 16, Quebec and Prince Edward Island (respectively) announced a state of public health emergency.
The federal government is looking at powers in legislation known as the Emergencies Act, although Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said turning to the act would be a “last resort.”
As the response to COVID-19 is evolving rapidly, everyone is encouraged to stay informed as new developments arise, by watching and reading the news and keeping up to date by visiting www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus.