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Ontario Introduces Legislation to Address the Ongoing Threat of COVID-19 with Flexibility Over the Next Year

Published on
July 7, 2020

Today, the Ontario government introduced proposed legislation, Bill 195, Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. This legislation, if passed would continue orders made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act in relation to COVID-19. The Act, when proclaimed, would also terminate the COVID-19 declared emergency, if it has not already been terminated.

Currently, the provincial declaration of emergency has been extended until July 15, with current emergency orders in effect until July 10. A full list of current emergency orders in effect under the EMCPA can be found on the e-Laws website under the EMCPA and at Ontario.ca/alert.

Details of the legislation, if passed:

  • Continue emergency orders in effect under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) under the new legislation for an initial 30 days and allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council, or delegated Minister, to further extend these orders for up to 30 days at a time.
  • Allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council, or a delegated Minister, to amend certain emergency orders continued under the EMCPA, if the amendments would have been authorized under the EMCPA and relates to: (1) labour redeployment or workplace and management rules; (2) closure of places and spaces or regulation of how businesses and establishments can be open to provide goods or services in a safe manner; (3) compliance with public health advice; or (4) rules related to gatherings and organized public events.
  • Not allow new emergency orders to be created.
  • Allow emergency orders to be rescinded when it is safe to do so.
  • Contains enforcement provisions for offences and penalties based on provisions of the EMCPA.
  • The legislation dictates that the power to extend and amend orders would be limited to one year, unless the Legislative Assembly, on the recommendation of the Premier extends it for an additional year.

According to the government, this legislation would ensure oversight and transparency of the use of the emergency orders by mandating regular reporting and providing the rationale for the extension of emergency orders. The government has committed to make decisions informed by public health advice and based on evidence.

The province clarified that the termination of the provincial emergency declaration under the EMCPA or the passage of Bill 195 does not prevent municipalities from declaring a state of emergency or continuing such a declaration and does not prevent Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health or local medical officers of health from exercising the powers of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

What it Means

This legislation recognizes that Ontario is now in a different state than when the Provincial State of Emergency was declared on March 17, 2020, while recognizing that COVID-19 still poses risks that will continue for an extended period of time and necessitates the government having tools needed to protect Ontarians in general, and specifically the vulnerable populations.

While ending the state of emergency is necessary to continue with economic recovery, the state of emergency allowed for emergency orders which provided tools necessary for frontline healthcare providers to protect public health. These tools include limiting long-term care staff to working at one home, allowing public health units to redeploy staff for contact tracing and allowing the construction of temporary health care facilities. This legislation would also allow the government to reinstate lockdown measures, if required. These tools are necessary to continue to have the resources to monitor our progress, have the flexibility in the system to deal with outbreaks and respond quickly if the need should arise.

Ontarians have worked hard to contain COVID-19 but the reality is that the impacts of the pandemic are long-lasting, new waves may emerge and life is in a state of new normal necessitating limitation on gatherings and other measures for the foreseeable future.

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