“We’ve all seen the pictures online of the people who seem to think they’re invincible. Well, you’re not. Enough is enough. Go home and stay home. This is what we all need to be doing. And we’re going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks or by enforcing the rules if that’s needed. Nothing that could help is off the table.”
Who made this strongly-worded statement?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his daily coronavirus press conference on March 23.
It’s rare for me to say this, but Trudeau was absolutely right – and it needed to be said.
The PM’s views have been echoed by several Canadian premiers.
Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane closed the territorial borders to non-residents over the weekend after its first reported case of COVID-19, stating “we knew this day was coming.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced a provincial state of emergency and strict border controls, noting “this decision was not made lightly.”
Quebec Premier Francois Legault closed all non-essential services and said his province “will be on hold for three weeks.”
Included in this list is Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has handed his province’s affairs extremely well during the coronavirus pandemic. He announced that non-essential services will be shut down on March 24 at midnight.
Ford said, “this is not the time for half-measures, this decision was not made lightly.” (Businesses like supermarkets, pharmacies and liquor sales, as well as takeout services from restaurants, will remain open.)
Ford was clearly fed up with the actions of residents who weren’t using intelligence and common sense with respect to staying home, self-isolating and social distancing.
“I have a message if you’re going for a walk, if you’re just hanging out,” Ford said. “Go out by yourself, go out with one other person, your loved one, your spouse, your family member, but keep it limited.”
He also told snowbirds returning from the U.S. to stop going immediately to the stores for groceries and supplies.
“I’m sorry, the rules in Florida (are) not the rules here in Ontario. Go directly home and stay in your house. You’re putting your grandchildren at risk … you’re putting thousands and thousands of people at risk.”
Cochrane, McNeil, Legault and Ford, like Trudeau, were absolutely right – and it needed to be said.
Safeguards must be put in place to protect individuals, families and communities from the spread of the coronavirus. The majority of Canadians are acting responsibly, staying at home (and working remotely, if possible) and keeping their distance from others.
Some have decided to ignore the risks and simply do as they please, however. Their ignorant and/or selfish actions are putting their fellow citizens in harm’s way, and have left Canada perilously close to declaring a national emergency.
What would this entail, exactly?
The Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, gives Parliament the ability to take special measures on a temporary basis to ensure Canada’s safety and security during national emergencies.
The act defines a national emergency in two ways: “(a) seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it, or (b) seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada.”
These special temporary measures, which “may not be appropriate in normal times,” would have to fit within the parameters of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Short-term government compensation of laid-off workers and for businesses could be one component. It could also mean the short-term removal of certain personal rights and civil rights.
If you’re worried about your freedoms being taken away, the potential declaration of a national emergency would be much worse than anything we’re currently experiencing.
I’m not pleased about this. It’s against everything in my DNA to support measures that enhance the power of the state, and erode individual rights and freedoms. But if some people won’t listen and continue to act irresponsibly, we’ll all be stuck with these short-term measures.
There may still be time to avoid a national emergency in Canada. But we all have to be on the same page today – not tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. If not, it will be too late.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.