Trudeau not declaring national state of emergency for COVID-19 yet
TORONTO -- Despite several states of emergency being declared by provincial governments across the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won’t be invoking a national one just yet.
Trudeau said the federal government is looking at a broad array of measures to respond to the growing health emergency and they haven’t “removed from the table” any options.
“At this time, we do not see the federal emergencies act as an essential tool today, but we are continuing to look at the situation we’ll make decisions based on the best recommendations of science,” he told reporters gathered outside of Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Saturday, where he has been in self-isolation for just over a week.
The federal Emergencies Act, which was formerly known as the War Measures Act, would give the government “extraordinary powers” to ensure the safety and security of Canadians during a national emergency.
These powers could include regulating or prohibiting travel within Canada, evacuations, removing or requisitioning personal property, order people to deliver essential services, regulating the distribution of essential goods and services, making emergency payments and compensation, and imposing fines and jail terms to anyone who contravenes the orders.
When asked what the federal government was looking for before declaring a state of emergency, Trudeau responded that the key issue is determining whether there are things they need to be able to do that they cannot do under the existing regulations.
The prime minister also took the opportunity to reassure the thousands of Canadians stranded abroad due to air-space restrictions and border closures that they’re working to bring them home.
“We're working with Canadian airlines to make commercial flights available for as many Canadians who are stranded as possible. We will also be working with other countries to ensure that our airlines have the permissions and other supports necessary to fly,” he said.
Trudeau said an Air Canada flight departing Morocco this weekend will be the first to bring back stranded Canadians. He said they’re co-ordinating with other airlines to make similar arrangements for Canadians in places, including Peru and Spain.
“As we make these decisions, factors like the number of Canadians there, air-space closures and the local situation are being taken into account,” he said.
“Now, we won't be able to reach everyone but we're going to do our best to help those we can.”
The emergency flights will prioritize stranded travellers who are Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens, according to the government.
Trudeau encouraged Canadians who are stranded abroad to register with Global Affairs Canada if they haven’t already done so. He said Canadians will be expected to pay a reasonable ticket price for their emergency flight home; however, the government will help to cover extra costs incurred by the airlines.
Upon their return to Canada, passengers on these flights will be subject to the same public health policies that other travellers have experienced, which means they will have to isolate for 14 days. Trudeau also reminded Canadians that they will be barred from boarding a flight home if they exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19.
“This is about keeping all Canadians safe so we need everyone to do their part,” he said.
On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said he was given assurances by the Peruvian government that a flight to Canada would be allowed to leave, despite the country’s defence minister saying earlier that Saturday would be the last day for repatriation flights to leave Peru.
Champagne’s office also said he had organized a call with his counterparts in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Morocco, Peru, Turkey, and the U.K. to discuss their responses to the pandemic and the repatriation of their citizens.
“They shared their concerns over air travel restrictions and international border controls and the significant impact of COVID-19 on travellers,” a press release stated. “The ministers addressed the need to safely return travellers home from abroad, including those currently aboard cruise ships.”
For Canadian travellers in destinations where an emergency flight is not immediately available, Trudeau said consular assistance and a loan of $5,000 are available to them to buy tickets home or “hunker down in place.”
“It is an extremely difficult situation, but the lockdowns of various countries, the limits on air travel, logistical capacities of our airlines means that we are unlikely to be able to bring everyone home. So we're going to ask people to stay safe, to make smart choices and do the best they can in a situation that is unprecedented, exceptional and very difficult,” he said.
As of Saturday, there are nearly 1,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada. Ontario reported 59 new cases Saturday morning.
With files from The Canadian Press