New Brunswick Tribune

Thursday, November 30, 2023

N.B public health changes might give the chief medical officer more authority.

Changes in public health would give the chief medical officer additional authority.

Key Takeaways:

  • In future infectious disease outbreaks, proposed modifications to New Brunswick’s Public Health Act would empower the chief medical officer of health to proclaim targeted public health orders rather than sweeping emergency orders.

A set of proposed amendments to New Brunswick’s Public Health Act would allow the chief medical officer of health to declare targeted public health orders instead of sweeping emergency orders in future infectious disease outbreaks.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard remarked, “It gives us a more targeted strategy to managing notifiable diseases and epidemics.”

“Instead of locking down a zone or a province, we’ll be able to focus it on something smaller, like a building or a city block.”

The amendments would bring New Brunswick in line with the majority of other provinces and eliminate the province’s long-standing usage of the Emergency Measures Act, which was in effect from March 2020 to July 2021 and then again from September 2021 to March 2022.

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The goal is to avoid invoking the Emergency Measures Act, which Shephard defined as a blunt tool that should never be utilized for extended periods. According to Shephard, to quarantine an apartment building under the current public safety authority, an individual order would be given to each person. Under the new rules, the chief medical officer of health might issue a single order that would apply to everyone.

The amendments, according to Lyle Skinner, a specialist in disaster management law, should prevent the province from having to employ the Emergency Measures Act to respond to future COVID-19 pandemic waves.

“If there was another wave of COVID in the fall, I don’t see New Brunswick adopting another state of emergency,” Skinner said.

“In the short term, this gives them the skills to respond to any hypothetical COVID-19 issue.”

By limiting the extent of what can be included in a public health order, avoiding the employment of the Emergency Measures Act should, in principle, have a lower impact on civil liberties while protecting the public’s health.

“It doesn’t have the same interpretive freedoms; it must be tied to public health.”

“The emergency act is a blunt tool; it significantly influences civil freedoms, including the warrantless entrance. For example, under the Public Health Act, the warrantless entry would be far more restricted.”

Both opposition parties agree the bill is sound in concept but will need to be thoroughly scrutinized and may be amended as it moves through the legislature.

For the past year, Green Party Leader David Coon has urged the government to revise the Public Health Act.

Changes in public health would give the chief medical officer additional authority.
Changes in public health would give the chief medical officer additional authority. Image from CBC News

“In a pandemic, you shouldn’t have to rely on anything as harsh and extreme as the Emergency Measures Act to undertake public health measures,” he said.

Indeed, having the amendments in place earlier would have precluded the government from utilizing the emergency order to force strike healthcare workers back to work last fall, according to Coon.

“The government was able to proclaim a state of emergency to address a labor conflict and order people back to work.” They would not have been able to do that if the state of emergency had not been established, according to Coon.

“It provides the premier and cabinet so much authority that it should be used as little as possible and for as little time as feasible.”

According to Shephard, any orders made within the Public Health Act might have to be approved by the minister of health, avoiding entrusting all public health directives to an unelected authority.

However, Skinner believes the government should consider including elements mandating legislative assembly monitoring.

“If continuous orders are issued under public health or by the minister, the legislative assembly would have a role to authorize those authorities’ continued exercise.” “(The measure) is currently mute on that,” Skinner said.

“The more supervision the assembly has, the more powerful the province’s response to accountability and transparency will be.”

Source: Global News

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