Nova Scotia – Legal Implications of the COVID-19 Emergency

May 6, 2020

Two processes have been invoked in Nova Scotia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – the Chief Medical Officer has issued orders under the Heath Protection Act, and the Minister of Municipal Affairs has declared an emergency under the Emergency Management Act.

In addition, the Minister of Justice has issued a directive to all police forces under the Police Act to “escalate their efforts” to enforce the orders and directives made under the Health Protection Act and the Emergency Management Act, including the issuance of tickets and impounding of motor vehicles.

Health Protection Act

Under the Health Protection Act, a medical officer of health can issue orders if they are satisfied that there is a communicable disease or a risk of outbreak of a communicable disease. Our Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, issued such an order on March 13, and it has been modified several times to extend its application. There are rules for individuals and other rules for businesses or institutions. The current rules, as of May 1, 2020, are summarized below.

Visit the Nova Scotia Government website for updates:

Rules for Individuals under the Health Protection Act Orders

The order refers both to self-isolation and self-quarantine1 , but as the rules are the same, this document refers only to self-isolation.

You must self-isolate if:

  • you enter Nova Scotia from another province or country
  • you are diagnosed with COVID-19
  • you have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting the test results, or
  • you are identified as a close contact of a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19

A person who is required to self-isolate must:

  • remain in self-isolation for 14 calendar days, or as directed by a medical officer of health
  • conduct yourself in a manner so as not to expose others to infection or risk of infection by following the instructions on the Nova Scotia government website or given by health care personnel, including Telehealth 811

After the period of isolation expires, you may return to normal activities provided you are free of symptoms.

Self-isolation means remaining in your residence or residence grounds or otherwise removing yourself from the presence of others in public. Specifically, do not enter any building2 , public transportation, or other enclosed space (other than your residence) when other people are present.

The self-isolation requirement does not apply to workers who are essential to the movement of people and goods, including healthy workers in trade and transportation (i.e., truck drivers), healthy people who normally cross the provincial border for work purposes, people coming to Nova Scotia for essential health services with one support person, and certain others (military and police, fishing crews, pharmaceutical workers, etc.) They must, however, practice social distancing, closely monitor themselves, and self-isolate if they develop any COVID-19 symptoms.

Social Distancing

Everyone in Nova Scotia must practice social distancing of two metres or six feet, and must keep social or business gatherings to five persons or less.

There are a number of exceptions to the social distancing requirements and 5-person limit, including:

  • Facilities, homes for special care, hospitals, etc. funded by the government
  • Courts, correctional facilities, homeless shelters funded by government, non-licensed child-care facilities
  • Community health facilities of independent professionals – doctors, pharmacists, nurses, home care workers, etc., who are deemed necessary to provide essential services (emergency or urgent care only)
  • Caregivers under various government-funded programs
  • Food production plants or fishing vessels
  • Taxis
  • Municipal services facilities (police, fire, water, waste, transit etc.)

Rules for Businesses and Institutions under the Health Protection Act Orders

Unless subject to a specific closure order, all for-profit or not-for-profit businesses or establishments may continue to operate but must implement social distancing within these workplaces. Any establishment that cannot maintain social distancing must limit customers or clients to five.

Specific closure orders:
  • Public schools are closed until May 22 and will be reassessed at that time.
  • Licensed day care facilities are closed until May 22 and will be reassessed at that time.
  • Long-term care facilities and homes for special care are closed to visitors indefinitely.
  • Casinos are closed indefinitely; and no other business may operate a VLT indefinitely.
  • Restaurants may not provide in-person dining but may offer take-out and delivery.
  • Drinking establishments are closed, but private liquor stores may operate, and craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries may sell through their storefronts.
  • Personal care establishments (hair salons and barbers, gyms, campgrounds, golf courses, etc.) are closed indefinitely.
  • Regulated health care professionals (doctors, dentist, pharmacists, nurses, paramedics, podiatrists) may provide in-person emergency or urgent care, and may provide virtual care if authorized by their colleges.
  • Unregulated health professionals (massage, naturopaths, acupuncture etc.) may not provide in-person care but may provide virtual care.
  • Veterinarians may provide in-person emergency or urgent care, and essential supplies (prescription refills, prescription diets), and virtual care as authorized.
  • There are special provisions for facilities for manufacturing personal protective equipment and for temporary foreign workers admitted to Canada.
Specific opening orders:
  • From May 1, campgrounds may open for seasonal renters (but not short-term renters), golf courses may perform maintenance, and driving ranges may open.
  • From May 1, drive-in religious services are permitted, but with attendees remaining in their cars, with no communion of collection passed between cars.

For specific cases, refer to the Order of the Medical Officer of Health :

Emergency Management Act

The Minister of Municipal Affairs has power to declare an emergency3 in the Province or any part of it. On March 22, the Minister, Chuck Porter, issued such a declaration, which was initially to last until April 5 and has been extended twice, now to expire on May 17.

The effect of the declaration is that the Minister has broad power to “do everything necessary for the protection of property and the health or safety or persons”. Pursuant to this power, the Minister has issued directives, with fines of between $500 and $10,000 for individuals and up to $100,000 for corporations, for each incident of violation:

  • Directing all municipalities to cease holding meetings in person, and to hold only virtual meetings by telecommunications.
  • Directing that municipal transit systems are essential services required to operate during the state of emergency.
  • Directing that all provincial and municipal parks and beaches are closed to all, and travel into those parks and beaches is prohibited. Effective May 1, provincial and municipal parks (but not beaches or playgrounds) are open, subject to social distancing and 5-person rules.
  • Directing that commercial landlords are prohibited from exercising remedies for rent due after March 22 from a tenant which was required to close their business or whose business has been “substantially and directly restricted” under the orders under the Health Protection Act.
  • Directing that any entity incorporated under Nova Scotia law (including condominium corporations) must not hold the legally-required meetings of shareholders or members if that would involve more than five people, and providing that instead they may either hold a virtual or hybrid meeting, or defer the meeting until up to 90 days after the emergency ends.
Prohibition of price-gouging

While the Emergency is in effect, no person can charge more for goods or services than the fair market value of those services immediately before the declaration of the emergency4. To do so is an offence punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 for an individual or $100,000 for a corporation, or for up to six months’ imprisonment5.  Further, the purchaser can repudiate the contract at any time up to one month after the end of the emergency.


1 “Self-isolation” refers to a requirement that a person who has COVID-19 to remain separate from others in such a way as to limit direct or indirect transmission of the disease. “Self-quarantine” refers to a requirement that a person who has been, or may have been, exposed to COVID-19 to restrict that person’s activities so as to prevent transmission during the incubation period of the disease.

2 In multi-unit buildings this is understood to mean that you should not use the elevators, lobbies, or other public spaces of the building. This is not stated specifically on the website but has been commented on by Dr. Strang in public statements.

3 “Emergency” means a present or immanent event in respect of which the Minister believes prompt coordination of action or regulation of persons or property must be undertaken to protect property or health, safety or welfare of people in the Province.

4 Emergency Management Act, Stats NS 1990, c. 8, s. 6

5 Emergency Management Act, Stats NS 1990, c. 8, s. 23

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