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Not Yet Time For Federally Ordered Coronavirus Lockdown, Trudeau Says

“It is likely to take months before we are truly through this,” the prime minister acknowledged.

UPDATE: As of March 26, the federal government now requires that all travellers coming into Canada are subject to a mandatory quarantine. More details here.

OTTAWA — Former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose says the time has come for the federal government to declare a state of emergency.

In a tweet directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Sunday, Ambrose wrote:

“Canadians are ready for you to lead us further through this crisis. It’s time to declare a state of emergency in Canada and tell us to shelter in place, except for essential workers. We are ready to do our part to save others.

“We will not view it as an assault on our civil liberties, we will see it as assault on COVID 19,” she said.

In what has become a daily national address, Trudeau said provincial and municipal governments have not run out of tools to address the crisis so an escalated federal response is not yet required.

“The federal Emergencies Act is a significant step that can and should be taken when we have exhausted all other steps at other orders of government, and the legislation and regulations available to the federal government do not respond, or are insufficient to respond, to the situation at hand,” he said on Sunday.

Ottawa is keeping in close contact with the provinces and territories to ensure they are well-equipped to respond to the crisis, he said, and the Emergencies Act remains on the table.

“Our message to everyone is: you must stay home,” Trudeau reiterated, in French.

On Sunday, Nova Scotia was the latest jurisdiction to declare a state of emergency. Police and law enforcement agencies will now be tasked with enforcing self-isolation and social distancing rules.

Violators will be fined $1,000 a day

Premier Stephen McNeil said strict new measures were necessary after he had seen and heard reports of residents showing a lack of common sense by piling into cars, parking near one another, and gathering in public parks and the beach. .

“We are dealing with a deadly virus, and this behaviour is unacceptable,” he said.

Gatherings of more than five people are banned and people who do not obey public health directives will be fined $1,000 a day. Businesses who do not respect closures will be fined $7,500 a day.

As of Monday morning, the province will set up checkpoints at its land borders, ports and airports, and force those coming into Nova Scotia to self-isolate for 14 days.

Last week, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador all declared some form of states of emergency or states of public health emergency.

“We will not hesitate to take stronger measures should we need to ...”

- Health Minister Patty Hajdu

Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she continues to hope the federal government will not need to order Canadians to stay home. Right now, she said, the federal government is asking and recommending individuals remain indoors.

“We will not hesitate to take stronger measures should we need to in order to make two things absolutely crystal clear across this country,” she added. “One, to keep Canadians health and safety at the forefront and two to figure out a long term strategy to get us out of this situation.”

A national state of emergency hasn’t been declared in Canada since the introduction of the Emergencies Act in 1988, which is an updated version of the War Measures Act. That controversial law was invoked by Trudeau’s father, then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, during the FLQ crisis that rocked Quebec in 1970.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks out the front door of his residence at Rideau Cottage to speak at a press conference about COVID-19 in Ottawa, on Sunday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks out the front door of his residence at Rideau Cottage to speak at a press conference about COVID-19 in Ottawa, on Sunday.

The current prime minister has shown more reluctance at invoking the state’s unrestricted powers. During discussions earlier this month about the railway blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who oppose the construction of a pipeline, Trudeau repeated something he’d expressed several times: “ I do not think it is ever appropriate to send in the military against Canadian citizens.”

Declaring a public welfare emergency would allow the federal government, for example, to ban the movement of people, to take over personal property, and establish emergency shelters or hospitals.

Hajdu noted that public appeals and measures announced by provincial leaders and public health officials to address the outbreak are “getting stronger and stronger.”

“With that stronger advice will be coming more and more penalties if people don’t listen,” she said.

Quebec Premier François Legault on Sunday closed down shopping malls, saying too many people are gathering in public places. He made an exception for grocery stores, pharmacies and the provincially run liquor stores. Schools, he said, will remain closed until May 1.

Children-focused announcement promised

The federal government reported 1,302 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the country on Sunday morning and 19 deaths attributed to the virus so far.

Trudeau said he knows the directives are not easy to follow and he thanked the millions of Canadians abiding by instructions to social distance and self-isolate. He had a special message for children living through the crisis: “Thank you for helping your parents work from home, for sacrificing your usual day, for doing math class around the kitchen table and for trusting in science,” he said, adding that a kids-focused announcement is coming soon.

The prime minister declined to say when he believes social distancing and self isolation directives will be lifted but suggested it could be quite a long time. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday he thinks the outbreak could last four to nine months.

“That is a question for scientists,” Trudeau said, when asked about the timeline. The government is listening to the best advice available worldwide, he said, and taking into account lessons learned in other countries. “We know that self-isolation and social distancing is going to be extremely important in the coming weeks, we are going to have to maintain it.

“We also know that testing on a much larger scale is going to be very important which is why we are ramping up the amount of tests done by tens of thousands every single day, we will continue to look to do exactly what we need to do in the time it takes,” he said.

“I wish anyone could give a date when this will all be behind us, but that really depends, not just on what we do today but what we keep doing tomorrow, and into next week and into next month.”

Trudeau said more measures will likely be needed to help individuals and businesses weather the crisis. The $82-billion package announced last week, he said, is just a first step.

“It is likely to take months before we are truly through this.”

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