Civil Liberties and Emergency Powers in a time of Pandemic

On the new powers governments are exercising and the need for more vigilance

Public (or civil) liberties were not designed for peace and social stability: they were forged in the tumultuous period after the Second World War and designed to create safeguards against state incursions into our fundamental rights. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, here in Canada and around the world, citizens have been inundated with declarations of emergency, orders, and decrees, touching every aspect of our lives.

This briefing examines the legal authority for the new powers that governments are exercising and argues that this is a time for more, rather than less, vigilance. Emergency powers are usually exercised with little if any legislative oversight and the courts are (and will likely be) deferential to government decisions during times of crisis.

Nonetheless, there are warning signs internationally and even in Canada about overreach and about the legacy of the pandemic in terms of state powers. The media have sounded warnings about “coronavirus coups” in authoritarian regimes, where leaders use the crisis to crush opposition and criticism.

To read the rest of this article in the Max Bell School of Public Policy series, click below:  

Policy Challenges During a Pandemic

Categories: Civil Liberties

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