A list of proposed changes to New Brunswick’s Public Health Act would allow the Chief Medical Officer of Health to issue targeted public health orders, eliminating the need for sweeping emergency orders in future disease outbreaks infectious.
“This gives us a more focused approach to managing reportable diseases and outbreaks,” said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.
“Instead of locking down an area or a province, we’re going to be able to focus it a bit more on a building or a block.”
The changes would bring New Brunswick in line with most other provinces and avoid the long-standing use of the Emergencies Act, which was in effect in New Brunswick from March 2020 to July 2021, then September 2021. to March 2022.
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The idea is to avoid using the Emergencies Act, which Shephard described as a blunt tool that was never meant to be used for long periods of time. For example, Shephard says that under existing public safety powers, in order to quarantine an apartment building, an individual order would have to be issued to each person inside. The new rules would allow the Chief Medical Officer of Health to issue a single order that applies to everyone.
According to emergency management law expert Lyle Skinner, the changes should allow the province to avoid having to resort to the Emergencies Act to respond to future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wouldn’t consider New Brunswick enacting another state of emergency if there was another wave of COVID in the fall,” Skinner said.
“It provides them with the short-term tools to respond to any hypothetical issue with COVID-19.”
Avoiding recourse to the Emergencies Act should, in theory, mitigate the impact on civil liberties in the pursuit of public health protection by narrowing the scope of what can be included in a public health.
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“There are not the same interpretative freedoms, it has to be linked to public health.
“The Emergency Act is a brutal instrument, it has a huge impact on civil liberties, including warrantless entry, whereas the ability to effect warrantless entry would be much more limited under the Emergency Act. public health, for example.”
Both opposition parties say the bill is sound in principle, but will require careful consideration and may require changes as it makes its way through the legislature.
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Green Party Leader David Coon has been asking the government for a year to introduce these kinds of changes to the Public Health Act.
“You shouldn’t have to rely on something as drastic and dramatic as the Emergencies Act to implement public health measures during a pandemic,” he said.
In fact, Coon says, putting the changes in place sooner would have prevented the government from using the emergency order to force striking health care workers back to work last fall.
“By declaring a state of emergency, the government was able to use it to settle a labor dispute to order people back to work. If the state of emergency (wasn’t in place) they could never have done it, they would never have declared a state of emergency… to order people back to work,” said Coon.
“It gives so much power to the prime minister and the cabinet that it should only be used as little as possible, and then for as little as possible.”
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Shephard says any orders issued under the Public Health Act should be signed by the Minister of Health, which avoids placing all responsibility for public health orders on an unelected official.
But Skinner says the government should consider adding provisions requiring oversight by the legislature.
“If there is a situation where continuing orders are issued under public health or by the minister, the legislature would have a role to play in authorizing the continued use of these powers. Right now (the bill) is silent on that,” Skinner said.
“The more oversight the assembly can exercise, the more it strengthens the province’s accountability and transparency response.
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