Westward Independent

Bill 31 Loss of democracy?

by Adrienne Richards
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Bill 31, is possibly the scariest bill the NDP put forward in their mad rush to force through bills in winter of 2023. It is oddly reflective of the World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic treaty that its member states, of which Canada is one, are looking to sign on to in the spring of 2024.


WHO Pandemic Treaty: “This treaty as proposed, a legally binding treaty would see power given to the WHO to direct the global health management of pandemics. The treaty will define and classify what is to be considered a pandemic. Once a pandemic is declared, the WHO would require countries to adopt specific response measures.”In official comments provided to the WHO on the Working Draft in September 2022, the government stated that the treaty should “contain both legally binding as well as non-legally binding elements.” Among the input provided, the government has advocated for the new instrument to be “inclusive and defined by an all-hazards approach in alignment with the IHR,” and that “other global health threats” should be included in the new instrument, including “climate change impacts, air pollution, chemical contamination.” In an Inquiry of Ministry response received by MP Lewis on December 11, 2023, the government further stated that the accord should “be based on science and evidence, aim to enhance health equity and gender equality, respect national contexts, and compliment [sic] existing tools. It should advance a One Health approach, strengthen health systems, data and information sharing, and enhance accountability for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”- leslynlewismp.ca


This is something to keep in mind as we give a short overview of Bill 31, an amendment to the Emergency Program Act, and its introduction of a series of changes that raise concerns about its potential implications.

This bill states it is in alignment with international agreements like the UN Sendai Framework and introduces the possibility of global influence in local emergency responses.”The Sendai Framework” works hand in hand with the other 2030 Agenda agreements, including The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, The Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the New Urban Agenda, and ultimately the Sustainable Development Goals.” It was endorsed by the UN General Assembly following the 2015 Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR).


New and worrisome definitions in Bill31:
Bill 31 broadens the definition of an “emergency” to include a myriad of events, (rioting – NEW, security threat – NEW, terrorist activity) NEW, prescribed incident – NEW) The inclusion of health crises and subjective terms like “security threats” and “prescribed incident” (of which there is no definition listed) raises concerns about the potential for broad interpretation and application. And the word “emergency” means now includes: “a state that (a) is the result of any of the following: (i) an event that (A) has occurred, is ongoing or appears imminent, and (B) is caused by one or more incidents, whether or not those incidents occur in the same location or at the same time, of accident, fire, explosion, technical failure, rioting, security threat, terrorist activity within the meaning of section 83.01 of the Criminal Code, force of nature or a prescribed type of incident; (ii) the presence, suspected presence or imminent spread of a transmissible disease or an environmental toxin; (iii) a prescribed type of event or the presence or suspected presence of prescribed circumstances, and (b) requires the prompt coordination of action, or the special regulation of persons or property, to protect (i) the health, safety or well-being of persons.


Excerpts of note from the definition of “vulnerable”: “ concerning individuals, animals, places, or things, or a class of them, is defined as: b. Possessing characteristics prescribed by regulations.” Who may be ‘saved’ by the government or removed, if need be?


Identification of “Critical Infrastructure” (Section 48): May lead to subjective interpretations of what is deemed “critical” and therefore be under the boot of the Bill. Definition of Critical Infrastructure encompasses systems, networks, facilities, or assets. These can be physical or virtual and may be publicly or privately owned. Or its class is designed, used, or intended to be used for: “b. It is necessary to protect, maintain, or restore one or more of the following: i. The health, safety, or well-being of persons. ii. The environment. iii. The economy. iv. The security of the province. v. The effective functioning of any branch of government. vi. The provision of emergency resources. vii. Any other matters as prescribed.” Think Federal Emergencies act on steroids.


Some factors that could trigger an emergency – Definition of “Circumstances”: “a. The person engages in an activity that is or may create a hazard. b. The person uses a process or property in a manner that is or may create a hazard. c. A condition that is or may create a hazard exists or may exist on land owned or occupied by the person.” WELL open to interpretation, especially the many uses of the word “may” throughout the bill, does conjure up some jack-boots using these definitions.


A few actions that may be the subject of an order by the minister: ‘c. Implementing one or more emergency measures. d. Offering emergency resources or the use of land, encompassing situations involving individuals and animals evacuated from another jurisdiction, as well as personal property removed from another jurisdiction.’ The minister is granted the authority to request a government minister, the Nisga’a Nation, or a treaty first nation to undertake one or more of the actions described in subsection (3). Which includes allowing these emergency powers to be used by the First Nations.


Compelled Information Sharing: The minister, if satisfied that a person has necessary information, may order them to provide it to another person, the provincial administrator, or a lead minister. You may be compelled to share information or correspondence you had with another person, or your private records (health etc.) may be obtained, as they now also can be through Bill 36


Property Control (77): The minister, through an order, can appropriate, use, or control personal property, control the use of land, authorize entry, prohibit entry, and regulate trees, crops.


General Restrictions (Section 78) Travel, Business, and Events (78): The minister has the authority to control or prohibit travel to/from an area, the carrying on of business, or the holding of events.


(81)The Lieutenant Governor in Council is empowered to create regulations under this Division, and these regulations may apply to various parameters: b. Areas not covered by a declaration of a state of provincial emergency. d. To specific persons, things, or classes of persons or things, as determined by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Incredibly broad again, not even needing an emergency in an area, and expands on these powers as they are not limited by Section 41 of the Interpretation Act, implying that it allows for additional flexibility and discretion in the creation and application of regulations.


Minister’s Authority (Section 5): Granting the minister broad authority to issue orders if objectives are not met introduces a significant concentration of power. But the Minister may also be overruled: “The participating authority is not obligated to seek the approval of the minister to exercise a power under Division 1 or 2 of Part 6. Limitation on Minister’s Authority: In such cases, the minister is restricted in their authority to intervene in the decisions made by the participating authority. Specifically: b. The minister is not permitted to cancel a declaration of a state of local emergency or a declaration of a local recovery period made by the participating authority.” The exemption of ministerial approval for government entities acting under an emergency measures agreement raises questions about checks and balances, potentially allowing decisions with significant local impact without sufficient oversight, to be made by the Lieutenant Governor, out-of-country entities, or the federal Government.


Local Authority Agreements (Section 23): While encouraging cooperation, the requirement for consent from Indigenous governing bodies underscores the potential for differing standards and introduces complexities in emergency management. Indigenous. While acknowledging Indigenous governance structures, the provision allowing opt-out from the Bill and its repercussions for not complying introduces complexities and potential discrepancies in emergency management standards across jurisdictions.
Unlike in the past, these powers can be invoked BEFORE and AFTER a so-called emergency: Preemptive and Post-Emergency Powers (Various Sections): Granting powers both before and after an emergency raises questions about the necessity for such expansive temporal scope. The potential for preemptive actions and extended authority post-emergency demands scrutiny regarding the balance between necessity and citizens’ rights.


Removal of Liability and Stringent Enforcement Measures (Various Sections): Removing liability from individuals enforcing orders during emergencies will severely impact accountability. Stringent enforcement measures, including hefty fines and imprisonment, for those not complying with enforcing measures, and those not complying to the restrictions, raise concerns about proportionality, fairness, and the potential for overreach.


Bill 31 presents a series of changes that, when examined closely, raise legitimate concerns about individual rights, accountability, and the potential influence of international agreements on local governance. Striking the right balance between effective emergency management and safeguarding individual liberties, rights to protest and more, remains a critical consideration as this legislative framework progresses. Public dialogue and scrutiny were not obtained, and if the past three years show how much the government can wield its powers, they basically just said “hold my beer” and went full totalitarian.

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