COVID-19 Emergency Powers Nearly Limitless

Commentary, COVID-19, Government, Lee Harding

The war against the invisible enemy of COVID-19 has unfortunately made normal rights and freedoms invisible as well. Another example manifested on September 13 when Saskatchewan’s premier renewed emergency orders for his province. The list of powers he claimed were so sweeping, they seemed more fit for an armed conflict than for a virus that kills only 73 of every 100,000 Canadians infected.

The list of powers, delineated from letters “a” to “n,” almost seemed conscientiously listed in order of the most benign and reasonable to the most draconian. Point A of the emergency orders authorizes the minister of health to “put into operation any emergency plan or program that the minister deems appropriate.” Point B enables the minister to authorize municipalities to put in emergency programs, but the next point allows the minister to seize control of those local responses. From there, the dictatorial beast is unleashed.

Point D authorizes the minister to “acquire or utilize any real or personal property that the minister considers necessary to prevent, combat or alleviate the effects of an emergency” and to “control or prohibit travel to or from any area of Saskatchewan.” 

It’s all reminiscent of a 2010 National Film Board production, “Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague,” which envisioned how governments might respond if smallpox broke out in our times. Here, the individual who later became the chief public health officer of Canada, said for the “non-compliant, there are definitely laws and public health powers that can quarantine people in mandatory settings…you can track people, put bracelets on their arms.”

Narrator Colm Feore explained, “Police checkpoints are set up on all the bridges and everyone leaving the city is required to show proof of vaccination. Those who refuse to co-operate are taken away to temporary detention centres.”

From there, the now chief public health officer of Canada said, “It’s better to be pre-emptive and precautionary and take the heat of people thinking you might be over-reactionary, get ahead of the curve and then think about whether you’ve overreacted later.”

If you seize power first, ask questions later. If that is the prescription, Saskatchewan has that down. Proof of vaccination is required for indoor dining at restaurants, all licensed establishments, all entertainment venues and indoor fitness centres and gyms. The government that told you where not to go can also tell you where to go, and “cause the evacuation of persons and the removal of persons or livestock and personal property from any area of Saskatchewan that is or may be affected by an emergency.”

Having ordered people out of their homes, the government can order others in and even blow up the place. The minister can “authorize the entry into any building or on any land, without warrant, by any person in the course of implementing an emergency plan,”  “cause the demolition or removal of any trees, structures or crops if the demolition or removal is necessary or appropriate in order to reach the scene of the emergency, to attempt to forestall its occurrence or to combat its progress.” 

Wait—“forestall its occurrence”? So emergency orders can be executed when the emergency hasn’t happened? Oh yeah, I forgot—act first, think later.

Meanwhile, shoppers might have a small emergency at the store as the command economy takes over. The health minister can “procure or fix prices for food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical supplies or other essential services and the use of any property, services, resources or equipment within any part of Saskatchewan during the emergency period.”

Why is one’s private vaccination status forcibly public now? It’s because the minister can “cause information to be collected, used or disclosed that the minister is satisfied is necessary to prevent, combat or alleviate the effects of the emergency and for no other purpose.”

The minister is more like a commander-in-chief in an armed conflict and can “conscript persons needed to meet an emergency; and do all acts and take all proceedings that are reasonably necessary to meet the emergency.” He can have anyone; he can do almost anything.

“Section 18 [of the Emergency Planning Act] and every order made pursuant to Section 18 prevail in the case of any conflict with any other Act, regulation, order, collective agreement, other agreement or other law,” Moe writes.

Worse still, the adage that we elect our dictators every four years is not always true. “All persons are required to comply with any orders issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Health Officer,” Moe writes, proving that sometimes we don’t even elect our dictators at all. 

After reading this list, Jordan Peterson took to Twitter to ask with understatement, “Am I the only one who finds this level of ascription of power during this ‘emergency’ just a trifle excessive?” More than a few responses showed him he was not. 

Although the Emergencies Act originally limited orders to last 14 days, recent amendments allow them to last indefinitely. Let’s hope in Saskatchewan and elsewhere the “new normal” doesn’t become a permanent suspension of our cherished rights and freedoms.


Lee Harding is a research associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.