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Emergency Management in Canada. John Lindsay Brandon University. A tragedy in three acts. The War Measures Years 1914 to 1988 Emergency Preparedness 1988 to 2003 Public Safety 2003 to present. Setting the Stage.

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Emergency management in canada

Emergency Management in Canada

John Lindsay

Brandon University

A tragedy in three acts
A tragedy in three acts

  • The War Measures Years

    • 1914 to 1988

  • Emergency Preparedness

    • 1988 to 2003

  • Public Safety

    • 2003 to present

Setting the stage
Setting the Stage

  • The evolution of Canada’s emergency management system has been played out in a country of significant hazards but in the absence of truly devastating events.

  • This has had a profound influence on the rate and direction of growth of the system.


  • Canada has a seismic threat similar to the US but with fewer people at risk.

  • The earthquake that will eventually occur in the Vancouver area will cause a disaster of unprecedented scale for Canada.

Emergency management in canada

  • Tornados, hurricanes, blizzards and heat waves have all caused disasters in Canada but their relative infrequency limits their influence on the emergency management system.


  • Floods have been Canada’s most costly disasters and are one hazard every province shares.

  • Past events have led to major mitigation projects and disaster financial assistance reforms.

Emergency management in canada

  • Wild fires are common across Canada and a few major interface and urban fires have highlighted the need for integrated systems.

  • Hazardous materials incidents also show how essential community emergency plans are to successful responses.

And everything else
And everything else

  • Pandemic flu, terrorism, and infrastructure failures have all caught the attention of emergency planners over the last few years

  • Their influence on emergency management systems seem disproportionate to Canada’s experiences to date…

    …but the country’s still young.

Act one war measures
Act One: War Measures

  • Canada’s Constitution defines federal and provincial jurisdiction over different subjects

  • While the defence of Canada is clearly federal, ‘civil defence’ activities have more in common with provincial powers.

  • Canada’s only legislative tool for special powers was the War Measures Act of 1914.

Oh canada we stand on guard for thee
“Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee”

  • World War II provided the justification for air raid precautions (ARP) to be included in the Defence of Canada Regulations.

  • These included powers to suspend many civil rights such as implementing curfews.

  • Thus civil defence was Canada’s first emergency management activity.

Changing names and threats
Changing names and threats

  • The 1950’s and ’60’s saw civil defence shift to account for the changing threat of nuclear attack and the consequences for civilians and government continuity.

  • National Defence, Health and the PMO all traded responsibilities for civil defence during this period.

Flq just watch me
FLQ – “Just Watch Me”

  • The Government’s decision to use powers under the War Measures Act during the 1970 October Crisis and the lack of clear limits on the potential for abuse lay the foundation for Canada’s current legislation.


  • The need for distinct emergency powers tied to different types of incidents was obvious and led the federal government to pass new legislation…

    …and it only took 18 years.

Act two emergency preparedness
Act Two: Emergency Preparedness

  • In 1988 the government finally passed new legislation to replace the long outdated 1914 War Measures Act.

  • This created Emergency Preparedness Canada as separate department answering to its own Minister and to Parliament.

Planning powers
Planning powers

  • The Emergency Preparedness Act created EPC and set out roles and responsibilities for government planning.

  • This started a brief period of relative success for emergency planning.

Responding powers
Responding powers

  • The Emergencies Act lays out the conditions, processes and powers associated with

    • Public Welfare Emergency

    • Public Order Emergency

    • International Emergency

    • War Emergency

Short lived freedom
Short lived freedom

  • EPC lost its stand-alone status in 1992 and was returned to being a small part of the Department of National Defence.

  • More significantly it lost having its own Cabinet Minister, reporting instead through the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff.

Water and ice and y2k
Water and Ice… and Y2K

  • The 1997 Red River Valley Flood and the 1998 Ice Storm in Ontario and Quebec led to changes only in the provincial systems.

  • The focus on computers during Y2K and the ‘end’ of the cold war saw EPC become the Office of Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness.

Act three public safety
Act Three: Public Safety

  • A flurry of new legislation in the past five years has reinvented Canada’s emergency management system again.

    • Public Safety Act 2004

    • Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Act 2005

    • Emergency Management Act 2007

Echoes of terror
Echoes of terror

  • The September 11 and anthrax attacks shocked Canada into once again changing its emergency management systems even though the impacts were limited.

  • The influence of security concerns over other public policy issues is now the main impact.

All together now
All together now

  • Public Safety Canada consists of:

    • Royal Canadian Mounted Police;

    • Canadian Security Intelligence Service;

    • Correctional Service of Canada;

    • National Parole Board and;

    • Canada Border Services Agency.

  • But where’s emergency management?

A moving target


1980 Privy Council




1992 DND

1988 EPC

1957 Privy Council Office



1963 Defence Production

1965 Industry


2001 DND


1951 Health and Welfare





2003 PSEPC


1948 National Defence


1973 Defence



1967 National Defence

1975 Defence

A Moving Target

15 name changes and reorganizations in 60 years

The future
The Future?

  • Canada’s emergency management system will be tested by a major event and will likely be seen to succeed despite its inevitable failings…

    …and then be reorganized anyway!