Minister must follow law on orders even during pandemic: B.C. ombudsperson

VICTORIA — British Columbia's ombudsperson says the province's public safety minister made two pandemic-related orders that were not authorized by law.

Jay Chalke says Mike Farnworth made one order that waived time limits related to any civil or family lawsuits as well as other situations where deadlines may be involved, including tribunals.

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The second order allowed local government meetings to be held without the public in attendance and gave municipalities the power to adopt bylaws quicker than usual.

Chalke says Farnworth did not have the legal authority to make the orders under the Emergency Program Act, but the second order was repealed last week after he shared a draft report of his investigation with the province.

He says the new order includes safeguards against arbitrary or inconsistent decision-making.

The government has introduced legislation that, if passed, would validate the two orders.

"I recognize speed was important in responding to the pandemic," Chalke says in a statement. "However, while the intent and even the content of these orders may be worthy that is not enough. Every exercise of public authority in a democratic system must find its source in law."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said both orders were repealed last week.

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