Alberta’s government will modernize the Public Health Act to provide greater transparency during public health
The Public Health Amendment Act would reflect current and emerging public health challenges and best practices, help Alberta’s government respond quickly to public health issues, including chronic diseases, and protect the health and safety of Albertans. The Public Health Act, which was originally introduced in 1907, and is one of Alberta’s oldest laws.
Tyler Shandro is the Minister of Health.
“A modernized act will help Alberta’s government respond to public health emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping the health and safety of all Albertans as a top priority,” Minister Shandro said. “Introducing this bill will have no impact on the current public health measures in place and will not impact the ability of the government to respond to the pandemic.”
On March 17, 2020, Alberta declared its first State of Public Health Emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Select Special Public Health Act Review Committee was appointed on June 15, 2020, with a mandate to review the act to determine if it can be improved in light of the experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
58 per cent of the 636 Albertans voiced their desire to strengthen checks and balances on authorities, protect the rights of individuals, including rights to refuse immunization and address chronic diseases in the Act.
The proposed amendments are a result of extensive feedback from Albertans and recommendations from the Select Special Public Health Act Review Committee and Alberta Health. The amendments would also deliver on the commitment by the government to repeal sections in the Public Health Emergency Powers Amendment Act.
If passed, the government says that Bill 66 will provide greater transparency for Albertans who want protections for their individual rights and greater checks and balances within the act by:
- Removing all sections in the act that authorize a minister to modify legislation by order.
- Removing unnecessary powers to order mandatory immunization or conscription.
- Establishing that individuals must be immediately informed of the location if they are going to be detained.
- Establishing criteria that must be met before an individual can be treated or examined.
- Outlining how personal health information is collected or disclosed under the act.
- Requiring orders that apply to the public or groups are published online.
- Requiring a periodic review of the act every ten years.
- Supporting a step-wise approach to escalating public health response.
According to the government, Bill 66 would also modernize the act by reinforcing the province’s work to prevent chronic disease, updating outdated provisions and implementing lessons learned from public health responses,
including the COVID-19 response.
The proposed modernization amendments would:
- Establish the qualifications of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
- Clarify ambiguous provisions, and establish monitoring and planning provisions for chronic disease and preventable injuries.
Additionally, the proposed amendments would update provisions and implement lessons learned from public health responses, including the COVID-19 response, including:
- How people are identified as contacts and how to support controlling the spread of disease.
- Information collection during inspections.
- Dealing with recoverable costs and extended timelines for addressing offences.
Some examples of the proposed modernization amendments include:
- Updating provisions on absence from employment to reflect the possibility of working remotely.
- Establishing the qualifications of the chief medical officer of Health in legislation.
- Addressing chronic disease and preventable injuries in the act to strengthen the province’s work on prevention.
- Additionally, to support the government’s red tape reduction initiative, the proposed amendments would repeal the intoxicating gas and vapour provisions and the Regulated Matter Regulation.
Repealing section 70 and the Regulated Matter Regulation from the Public Health Act means Albertans who use inhalants as an intoxicant will no longer be fined for their addiction.
These measures are unique to Alberta the government says and are punitive for vulnerable Albertans. Alberta’s government has made recovery-oriented treatment for people who use substances a priority and removing these measures will support recovery rather than enforce fines and imprisonment.