What is Canada’s Emergencies Act?

Canada’s Emergencies Act is a federal law that can be used by the federal government in the event of a national emergency; it is used to maintain peace and order in Canada.

The Emergencies Act can be invoked to grant temporary additional powers to the federal government when they require stronger measures in the event an emergency is declared. These powers include the ability to make orders or regulations that are believed, on reasonable grounds, to be necessary to respond to the situation as it happens.

When can the Emergencies Act be used?

The Emergencies Act can only be used in the event of a national emergency. The federal legislation defines a national emergency as “an urgent, temporary and critical situation that seriously endangers the health and safety of Canadians or that seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada”.

There are four types of emergencies that can be declared under the Emergencies Act:

  • A public welfare emergency
  • A public order emergency
  • An international emergency
  • A war emergency

Is this a type of martial law?

No, the Emergencies Act was written to ensure a democratic approach is always applied in the case of a national emergency assuring the military does not gain control over the government. During a national emergency, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms continues to protect individual rights.

Some of the safe-guards that are written into the Emergencies Act require:

  • The Government must propose a motion in both the House of Commons and the Senate within seven sitting days that asks for confirmation and explains the reasons for declaring a national emergency.
  • Both the House of Commons and the Senate must vote on the motion. If either the House of Commons or the Senate do not agree to put the Emergencies Act into effect, then it is revoked that day. If it is confirmed then it will end, generally, after 30 days; unless an extension is confirmed by another vote.
  • A special joint committee of both the House of Commons and the Senate must be created to review the Government’s actions under the Act on an ongoing basis.

When has the Emergencies Act been used?

The Emergencies Act first became a federal law in 1988, however, it was first invoked and confirmed by the Government of Canada in February 14,2022. Previously, the War Measures Act was used for the similar purpose of national emergencies. The last time it was invoked was 1970; during a time when Canada was not actively at war.

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Last updated: February 28, 2022 4006517