Since the arrival of COVID-19, the virus has tested the largest governments and health agencies in the world. As the virus continues its march ground the globe, Ontario’s condominiums will be serving on the frontlines in efforts to contain and mitigate its spread. As condominiums work to stem this threat, another “new” player has entered the stage; Ontario’s thirty-five (35) Public Health Units. Although in existence since 1882, Ontario’s Public Health Units often operate out of sight and out of mind. That said, they command potent legal powers that everyone serving a condominium should be aware of. Recognizing the highlights of this new legal terrain will be important, especially in the urgent and time-sensitive circumstances that may come.
Public Health Units
The Ontario government describes the Public Health Units as official agencies, created by the Health Protection and Promotion Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.17 (the “HPPA”), to promote and administer public health and disease prevention, especially with respect to communicable disease control. Run, funded and administered by municipalities and led by a medical officer of health, the Public Health Units represent Ontario’s ‘on-the-ground’ response to disease outbreaks and will play a vital role in coordinating the response to COVID-19.
Everyone serving a condominium should know the significant powers that the local Public Health Units wield in fulfillment of their mandate. Should an official from public health arrive at your condominium, know that their powers rival that of law enforcement. Granted by the HPPA, the major power in the hands of the Public Health Units is the “Order Power” under section 22. This power grants the local medical officer the powers intended to stop a communicable disease from reaching or continuing an outbreak. This is the terrain of the power of quarantine in Ontario.
Exercising these Powers
In circumstances such as we presently find ourselves, the local medical officer may exercise their Order Power if they are of the reasonable opinion that: (i) a communicable disease exists or may exist or that there is an immediate risk of an outbreak; (ii) that the communicable disease presents a risk to the health of individuals; and, (iii) that the order is necessary to decrease or eliminate that threat. When these three (3) conditions are met, the local health officer can make sweeping and unprecedented orders.
Types of Orders
Where the above conditions have been met, the local medical officer can make a wide array of orders intended to either contain or eliminate the threat of a communicable disease. Although not a complete list, such orders include:
- Requiring any person that the order states has or may have a communicable disease or is or may be infected with an agent of communicable disease, to isolate himself or herself and remain in isolation from other persons;
- Requiring the cleaning or disinfecting, or both, of the premises or the thing specified in the order;
- Requiring the destruction of the matter or thing specified in the order;
- Requiring the person to whom the order is directed to conduct himself or herself in such a manner as not to expose another person to infection.
Such orders can also be made against a class of people, capturing a family, a community, and even a condominium. Such orders are appealable to Ontario’s Health Services Appeal and Review Board.
If your local Public Health Unit arrives at your condominium’s door, know that their mandate is to stop the outbreak of disease, quarantine if necessary and their powers to do so are not insignificant. Should such occur, condominium boards and property managers may be the front-line communicators between the Public Health Units and the condominium’s unit owners. For assistance with this, or any other condominium related legal matter, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and is not legal advice. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstance.