N.B. says changes to Emergency Measures Act meant to clarify state of emergency powers

Click to play video 'New proposed N.B. Emergency Measures Act under fire' New proposed N.B. Emergency Measures Act under fire
WATCH: The provincial government proposed adjustments to the Emergency Measures Act which would give sweeping powers to the cabinet and allow peace officers to stop and question people. Silas Brown has more. – Jun 11, 2020

Opposition parties are lining up to criticize a bill that would give sweeping powers to the government, police and peace officers during a state of emergency.

Amendments to the Emergency Measures Act would allow cabinet to circumvent legislation and municipal bylaws during a state of emergency, while also giving police and peace officers the power to stop and question people at will.

READ MORE: New Brunswick declares state of emergency to ‘slow down’ spread of coronavirus

During a technical briefing with reporters, senior staff in the department of public safety said the changes are being done out of transparency, in order to better reflect the powers the minister of public safety has through the act.

The act currently states that the minster may “do everything necessary for the protection of property, the environment and the health or safety of persons.”

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As for the section concerning police powers, officials said the intent was to put legislative authority behind peace officers, who have been tasked with running border check points throughout the pandemic.

When asked about the bill Premier Blaine Higgs agreed that its purpose is to provide clarity and said “it will likely look quite different as it goes through the house” as all parties have a chance to weigh in and propose amendments.

Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart also suggested the bill came about from a desire for clarity.

“There’s nothing except my order to tell them to do it,” Urquhart said of border stoppages. “A lot of people say well what section, where is this in the act that you’re allowed to do that.”

READ MORE: 11 new coronavirus cases confirmed in New Brunswick, state of emergency extended

But opposition parties worry the wording of the bill goes beyond its stated intent.

“There has to be a balance there and there has to be a balance of effectiveness, that government can effectively manage the emergency at hand, but that police forces and authorities don’t have too much legislative authority to override people’s freedoms in the middle of an emergency,” said People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin.

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Green leader David Coon said the current wording of the bill is far too broad and the Green caucus will be bringing amendments to narrow the powers afforded by the legislation.

“The powers need to be reduced significantly and need to be located at the border or to those at the border,” he said.