Many municipalities in Canada declared states of emergency in response to COVID-19, starting in March 2020. Most states of emergency have been extended to the present time (September 2020), but some have been ended or lapsed. Provincial and territorial emergency legislation that governs municipalities and how municipal decision makers can exercise their powers under states of emergency provide the process of how and in what ways municipalities end those declarations. Unfortunately, much of the legislation lacks a comprehensive and clear framework to guide municipal decision making. Notably, there are minimal notice and reporting requirements.
Municipalities or a designated minister under the legislation has the power to end or “terminate” a local state of emergency. Less common is the ability for municipal delegates to terminate a state of emergency. When the process for ending a state of emergency is outlined in the legislation, termination can be triggered via by-law, resolution, or order. Most of the legislation has an automatic termination provision saying that once declared, a state of emergency will last for a specific period and automatically terminate at the end of that period unless it is extended.
Yukon has the shortest automatic termination period: 48 hours (when declared by the mayor and not extended by a commissioner). Québec’s emergency legislation has an automatic termination period of five days. Importantly, Québec’s legislation specifies that when council cannot meet, a mayor may only make an emergency declaration for a period of 48 hours. Seven days is the most common automatic termination period—this is the time period for BC, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, NWT, and Nunavut. Manitoba has a period of 30 days. Alberta recently amended their legislation so that in cases of pandemic, the termination period extends beyond the typical seven days to 90 days. Newfoundland has no automatic termination: “An emergency which has been declared by a municipality shall remain in force until it is rescinded by the municipality”, and Ontario’s legislation lacks sufficient detail regarding termination period and process, and simply states that the Solicitor General must be “forthwith” notified of termination.
Quebec’s legislation is perhaps the best example of clear and detailed legislation regarding termination, especially pertaining to notice and reporting processes. In Alberta, typical municipal notice requirements are not required upon termination. In Manitoba, notice is to be “communicated by the most appropriate means to the residents of the affected area.” Similarly, BC’s legislation requires “communication that the local authority considers most likely to make the contents of the termination or the fact of the termination known to the majority of the population of the affected area.” The NWT notice requirements state that the “local authority shall cause the details of the declaration to be published, by any means of communication, to make known the contents of the declaration to the majority of the population of the area affected.” Nunavut, similar to the NWT, states that notice is to be by the “manner that the municipal council considers is most likely to make known, to the majority of the population of the part of the community affected, the fact of the expiration or the details of the cancellation or termination.”
From this brief overview, it is clear that there is little guidance or oversight of municipal terminations of states of emergency. Many municipal states of emergency have been continually renewed since March 2020 and have not yet ended, but when renewed, under the current legislative framework there would be minimal oversight of the terminations or follow up on how the municipalities handled the state of emergency.