May 15, 2006

Feds unveil new bill to strengthen response to all types of emergencies

New legislation to address emergencies of all types will promote a stronger, collaborative response by all levels of government responders and their non-government partners. Bill C-12, the proposed Emergency Management Act, was introduced on May 8 by Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety as part of the 11th annual Emergency Preparedness Week.

"Experience has taught us that leadership, co-ordination and collaboration across jurisdictions are essential to the Government of Canada's readiness for emergencies and more importantly - to saving lives. These principles are the foundation of the proposed Emergency Management Act," Day said.

The proposed Emergency Management Act (EMA) would strengthen the federal government's ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to and/or mitigate the impact of incidents of all types and scope, known as "all hazards" in Canada. The EMA recognizes that emergency management requires a collective effort between all jurisdictions including the private sector and non-governmental organizations.

The proposed EMA will ensure that the federal response to an emergency is co-ordinated and harmonized with other jurisdictions. It will also enable the establishment of a national emergency management system based on the elements of mitigation/prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

Federal assistance, when requested, may entail the co-ordination of supplies and services for response and recovery activities, the assistance of federal government personnel, or the allocation of financial assistance to the provinces or territories.

The EMA would assign new responsibilities for emergency management to the Minister of Public Safety. The Minister would be responsible for: co-ordinating the federal response to emergencies in Canada and to the U.S.; establishing standardized elements for emergency plans within the federal government; monitoring, evaluating and testing the robustness of emergency management plans of federal institutions; and enhancing co-operation with other jurisdictions and entities by promoting common standards and information-sharing.

Once passed, the new Act will replace the existing Emergency Preparedness Act and reflect a more comprehensive approach to emergency management in Canada. It is a key part of the federal government's efforts to confront new threats and protect Canadians by ensuring that responses to major emergencies are rapid, effective and co-ordinated.

The Emergency Preparedness Act, passed in 1988, established civil emergency planning and preparedness as key government responsibilities. It defined roles for the Minister of Public Safety and other Ministers, provided for federal-provincial co-operation, and made provision for post-disaster financial assistance to provinces.

Modernizing the existing legislation is intended to give the federal government the necessary authority to address the challenges associated with the changing nature of threats to public health and safety, including the need to co-ordinate federal assistance for emergencies within the Canada-U.S. context. Another goal of this initiative is to provide greater accountability for emergency management planning within the federal government by setting guidelines and best practices.

The Emergency Preparedness Act is often associated with the Emergencies Act. The functions of these two statutes differ substantially, as the Emergencies Act provides an instrument of last resort to deal with emergencies when all other Canadian laws prove inadequate.

Protection of critical infrastructure is one of the emerging challenges of modern emergency management. Critical infrastructure is defined as all assets vital to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians: this covers physical and information technology facilities, networks and services, as well as more mundane operations such as drinking water and sewage treatment plants.

The interdependence of cyber and critical infrastructures and its integration with American and global systems makes the challenge much more complex, and calls for widespread co-operation and information-sharing with the private sector and other jurisdictions concerning cyber threats, incidents, and protective measures.

Accordingly, the proposed Emergency Management Act includes an amendment to the Access to Information Act. The amendment is intended to protect information-provided to the federal government in confidence by a third party-whose disclosure would expose the vulnerability of critical infrastructures or security measures in place for its protection.

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