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July 10, 2020

The Ontario government is making a grab for more permanent emergency powers while cutting democratic controls

On Tuesday, July 7th, Ontario’s government introduced Bill 195, the Reopening Ontario Act (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act 2020. This Bill would effectively allow the provincial government to continue its extraordinary powers – currently being exercised under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) – except without the need for an ongoing public health emergency and without the oversight and accountability mechanisms that are crucial when power is concentrated in the executive branch (the Premier and Cabinet).  

Right now, the government has to return to the Legislative Assembly every 28 days if it wants to extend the state of emergency. It’s a way to insert democratic control over the executive branch’s emergency powers and the orders the Premier and Ministers make in response to an emergency. Bill 195 eliminates this requirement – leaving no meaningful democratic check on the government’s power.  

The Bill would allow current emergency orders to remain in place without a formal declaration of a state of emergency. It also allows individual Ministers to extend, amend, or revoke some of the emergency orders that are currently in force. The Bill’s definition of an amendment is excessively broad and includes imposing “more onerous or different requirements” and “extending” the application of the order being amended including its “geographic scope and the persons it applies to”. Orders can be amended to have retroactive effect.  

In essence, Bill 195 would give the Premier and Ministers the power to impose emergency orders that drastically curtail basic rights and freedoms without the need to engage in the legislative process or involve members of the Legislative Assembly.  

This ability – to exercise emergency powers without the label of an “emergency” or the checks and balances that come with it – would last for at least a year and can be extended by the Legislative Assembly for a year at a time. Indefinitely. The powers governments have under emergency legislation are supposed to be exceptional – Bill 195 would make the exercise of those powers the “new normal”.     

CCLA has significant concerns about the Reopening Ontario Act – it has an illegitimate purpose and is seriously flawed. There is no need for this Bill – Ontario’s existing emergency legislation gives the government all the tools it needs to respond to the pandemic. The government is simply trying to keep the power while cutting democratic oversight.  

CCLA has written an open letter to all MPPs urging them to vote against Bill 195 and is encouraging all Ontarians to write to their elected representatives to demand they resist this undemocratic power grab.

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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