Government of New Brunswick

Updated: March 31, 2020

During an emergency, whether it be a flood, train derailment or ice storm, members of the public often ask, “Will the province declare a state of emergency?” This a valid question, but what does it actually mean?

Many people get their idea of what declaring a state of emergency entails from the United States. There, emergency declarations are required to access federal assistance and emergency response funding. For example, if Florida wants FEMA to help after a hurricane, the state needs to declare a state of emergency.

In Canada, however, declaring a state of emergency has nothing to do with funding or federal help. Instead, a declaration is made by the minister of Public Safety to empower the government to take extraordinary measures to address a problem.

A declaration can be made for any number of reasons, ranging from fixing prices for food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical or other essential supplies to demanding people evacuate their homes. The goal is to correct a problem affecting the public’s wellbeing.

When the minister is satisfied that an emergency exists or may exist, the minister may declare a state of emergency at any time with respect to all or any area of the province. These measures are only made when absolutely necessary and for a specific time frame.

Why would the province need to declare a state emergency?

A state of emergency is declared when members of the public aren’t acting in the best interest of the greater good and corrective measures are needed to address the situation.

Who can declare a state of emergency?

The minister of Public Safety is the only person who can make a declaration on behalf of the province. A state of local emergency can be declared by a municipal council.

Can a declaration be made in secret?

No. When a state of emergency is declared, the reasons for the decision must be immediately communicated to members of the public to gain their understanding and compliance.

Can you give an example of when a declaration could be made?

If power was knocked out during an ice storm and stores tripled the price of generators, a state of emergency could be declared to lower the prices to pre-storm levels.

A declaration could also be made to restrict access to or through a disaster area by barricading roads.

When does a state of emergency end?

Under section 17 of the Emergency Measures Act, a state of emergency ends 14 days after the day on which it was declared. The Act also allows the Minister to renew the order.

Can the province order me to leave my property or prevent me from entering an area?

Yes, if it affects public safety.

Does the province have to declare a state of emergency to call in the Armed Forces for help?

No. To get help from the federal government, Canadian provinces must show they have exhausted their resources addressing the problem or don’t have the resources to address it. Note, the federal government decides what department is best suited to help. For example, a province doesn’t put in a request for 8,000 soldiers to fill sandbags. It explains it needs help protecting homes/buildings/infrastructure from flood waters.

Does a declaration cover the entire province?

Not necessarily. When a state of emergency is announced to the public, the government will explain what area is affected. In the case of a hurricane it could be large. In the case of a train derailment it could be small.

Are orders brought in during a state of emergency laws? Are there legal consequences for ignoring or defying orders?

Yes, depending the measures imposed by the declaration.  If, for example, an area is declared a disaster area and roads are barricaded, it is an offence to ignore the barricades, and offenders could be ticketed or arrested.

Where can I get a copy of the Emergency Measures Act to learn more about states of emergency?