Answering in Emergency: The Law and Accountability in Canada’s Pandemic Response
To achieve and protect public health, collective action is essential, especially through government intervention. In combating the COVID-19 pandemic, societies across the globe have allowed governments to exercise extensive emergency powers, which has led to unprecedented measures and responses, including significant restrictions on citizens' rights. These measures have often been taken swiftly, with little (and sometimes no) input from the electorate or from civil society. This paper describes the breadth of Canadian public authorities’ emergency powers to manage a pandemic, and provides an overview of emergency powers included in public health legislation. It then assesses avenues for accountability through law – specifically through private, criminal and constitutional law. It argues that accountability through private law litigation is the wrong avenue to pursue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and that criminal law safeguards and constitutional rights litigation only offer limited accountability. Finally, it presents an argument in favour of enhancing public accountability to parliaments and citizens through public health legislation.