Solar eclipse: Group launches legal challenge over Niagara state of emergency

Click to play video: 'How Niagara is preparing for the Solar Eclipse'
How Niagara is preparing for the Solar Eclipse
RELATED: The Niagara region has been marked as one of the best places in the world to view the solar eclipse. With a state of emergency in place for an influx of visitors, Niagara Mayor Jim Diodati joins Mark Carcasole to discuss how the city is preparing – Apr 5, 2024

An Ontario advocacy group is trying to take Niagara Region to court after the local government declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s total solar eclipse.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) filed a notice of application for a judicial review of the region’s state of emergency, also calling on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to intervene.

“The CCF is deeply concerned about the proliferation of declarations of emergency in situations where no genuine emergencies exist,” the group said in a statement issued Friday.

Niagara Region preemptively declared a state of emergency at the end of March, fearing a crush of crowds flocking to the area to view the solar eclipse. At the time, Regional Chair Jim Bradley said the state of emergency was declared “out of an abundance of caution.”

Niagara Falls, in particular, has been mooted as one of the best places to watch the celestial event.

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Police have previously said estimates suggest one million people could descend on the area.

The legislation used to declare the state of emergency says it should be relied upon “to promote the public good by protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people of Ontario in times of declared emergencies.”

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A state of emergency ran in Toronto for more than 700 days during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the provincial government also used similar measures over the same period.

In its bid to trigger a judicial review, the CCF has suggested the Niagara Region’s declaration was unlawful and failed to meet the definition of an emergency. Using emergency powers broadly outside of imminent emergencies could be risky, the group argued.

“If this goes unchecked, it is a virtual guarantee that activists will argue that various social issues like homelessness and climate change also constitute states of emergency,” CCF Litigation Director Christine Van Geyn said.

“While these are vexing problems, they shouldn’t be used to give powers to governments extraordinary powers to trample on our rights.”

Daryl Barnhart, chief of staff to the Niagara regional chair, said the region would “refrain from making any specific comments about the activities of” the CCF.

“What I will say is that the Region’s top priority during the eclipse is the health and wellbeing of our residents and visitors and we are taking all the necessary steps to ensure everyone can enjoy the event safely,” he said.

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“This declaration has ensured we have the correct staffing levels across all our lines of business and opened up opportunities for collaboration and cooperation that will help the day run as smoothly as possible.”

Barnhart said declaring the state of emergency was a “safeguard” for the region ahead of an unprecedented day.

Niagara Falls is not the only place in Ontario expecting visitors hoping to catch sight of the total solar eclipse. Other places, including Hamilton and Kingston, are expected to be on the path of totality.

The solar eclipse will take place on Monday between roughly 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., with areas experiencing the total eclipse set to see a couple of minutes of darkness when the moon obscures the sun.

Lawyer Julian C. Renaud, representing the CCF in its request for a judicial review, said that states of emergency should “only be declared in dire cases” involving tangible dangers.

The CCF is also asking Premier Ford — who has the power to end states of emergency — to step in and terminate the call.

Provincial leaders have tended to call for people to treat Monday’s eclipse as a regular day.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has told school boards students shouldn’t miss class over the event, while highway signs suggesting people work from home were taken down by the government because they didn’t fit its message.

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Neither the premier’s office nor the solicitor general replied to questions sent by Global News about the demand.

— with files from Global News’ Ryan Rocca

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