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When Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna announced a state of emergency in the Northwest Territories March 27, there was already a public health emergency in place.

So how does the general emergency differ from the public health health emergency chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola put in place March 18?

Comparing states of emergency

Where a public health emergency grants new powers to Kandola and health officials, the state of emergency gives the GNWT a range of powers that allow it to respond to the developing crisis.

Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Paulie Chinna declared a state of emergency in the NWT on March 27.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

Under the authority of a state of emergency, Chinna can now create emergency plans or programs, and order other authorities to do the same. Under those measures, public or private property can be acquired for emergency response, and qualified individuals pressed into service. Chinna can even order evacuations.

Premier Caroline Cochrane informed reporters at a press conference on Friday: “If something dramatic happens in the communities, can we make further orders? Can we order a business person to obey the orders? If we’re short-staffed can we order people to take those positions,”

The minister can likewise allow anyone carrying out emergency plans to enter private property — buildings and land — without a warrant. If it’s an emergency, she can also order structures, vehicles and property to be removed or demolished if they’re in the way of the response.

She can also set prices, and ration and buy goods and services. These goods can include supplies like food, medical equipment, clothes and fuel. On top of that, she can order the continued provision of essential services like medical care and welfare in small communities.

Some of those powers are intended to eliminate practices like hoarding during a crisis.

For example, Cochrane said, the government can now set the amount of toilet paper available to one customer, as several NWT retailers have opted to do on their own.

This can also mean avoiding price gouging on high-demand items, said Ivan Russell, manager of emergency measures for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

“Oftentimes during emergencies, we’ve seen exorbitant prices for key items,” he told reporters, pointing out that hasn’t been the case in NWT. “(The state of emergency declaration was made in part) so people don’t take advantage of an emergency for financial gain.”

Beyond public safety and emergency response measures, the declaration also gives the government leeway to take on additional duties as long as they’re needed.

Most broadly, it grants the powers to “do any other act or thing to mitigate, respond to and recover from the effects of the emergency,” according to a territorial government document comparing the public health emergency and the state of emergency.

There are some parallels between a general state of emergency and a public health emergency. Both allow for travel restrictions, in addition to requiring qualified individuals to help in emergencies. Both also have provisions for acquiring property for emergency response.

On the other hand, health emergency measures include:

  • authorizing qualified people to provide additional aid and services as needed
  • expediting emergency licensing of additional health care providers
  • coordinating and provide for the delivery of medical services
  • procuring and providing the distribution of medical supplies and equipment across the NWT

Cochrane stressed that despite the state of emergency declared March 27 — which officially takes effect on April 7 — there wasn’t a sudden spike in risk, or a rash of changing circumstances. She said the territorial government aims to have measures in place to respond to the situation as it develops.

“If we do get into a position where we need to have more authority, we have it installed … already,” the premier said.

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Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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