Edmonton·Updated

Bills would grant new emergency powers, help victims of human trafficking

The provincial government and municipalities will have more authority to penalize people or businesses violating emergency orders, should new legislation be approved.

Trafficking victims could seek emergency protection orders against abusers

House leader Jason Nixon will outline upcoming legislation to support the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The Alberta government and municipalities will have more authority to penalize people or businesses violating emergency orders, should new legislation be approved.

Changes proposed in Bill 13 could see violators of the Emergency Management Act spend up to a year in jail or pay up to a $10,000 fine for violating travel restrictions in the province, price fixing essential supplies during an emergency or refusing to render expert aid or be conscripted into service.

The changes would also allow municipalities to declare a 90-day state of local emergency during a pandemic. The current seven-day limit has seen city councils reconvene weekly to extend the state of emergency. Councils could also meet remotely if the bill passes.

If the provincial government thinks a town, city or village is making poor choices after declaring a state of local emergency, the municipal affairs minister could swoop in and overrule their choices without cancelling the local emergency.

House leader and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said the move is partly in anticipation of potentially competing emergencies this spring and summer.

"The reality is, we have a pandemic that is raging across the province, but we're weeks away from entering fire season, and a few weeks past that, we enter flood season," he said on Tuesday. "While we've created an act that allows us to co-manage the pandemic, we still need to take action on other emergencies in this time when the province needs to take control of the area."

If approved by the legislature, the bill would be the second set of changes to Alberta's Emergency Management Act within a three-week period.

Although the government declared a state of public health emergency on March 17, it has not yet declared a provincial state of emergency. Some municipalities, including the cities of Edmonton Calgary, have declared states of local emergency.

Disagreement about urgency of bills

The proposal to change emergency legislation is one of three bills the government is hoping to get through the legislature this week.

Alberta's Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer also introduced a bill Tuesday to protect victims of human trafficking.

Nixon also wants his colleagues to approve a bill that changes how disputes between mobile home tenants and landlords are handled.

Bill 3, which was introduced in February, would keep tussles out of court by giving landlords and tenants access to the provincial government's Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Service.

Justice minister Doug Schweitzer introduced Bill 8, designed to protect victims of human trafficking. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Opposition NDP deputy House leader Christina Gray said although the human trafficking legislation may be good policy, she questions whether it's urgent business that should be hustled through during a pandemic.

"We continue to be concerned that this UCP government may be using this pandemic to push through their agenda, which includes, to be clear, cuts to health care, cuts to education and removal of environmental protections and giving themselves power," Gray said on Tuesday.

Nixon said if the legislature is sitting, it's fair game to move forward an important bill that MLAs all support.

Much of the government's legislative agenda has been stalled by the pandemic.

Tackling human trafficking

Bill 8, the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, would fulfil part of a United Conservative Party election campaign promise.

It would create laws tailored to the issue. Now, victims and law enforcement rely on a patchwork of existing remedies, Nixon said.

Should Bill 8 pass, survivors could apply to court for emergency protection orders that last as long as three years. The orders could include restrictions on weapons use and help survivors get possession of pets. Violating an order could net a fine of up to $50,000 or up to two years in jail.

The bill would also allow survivors to sue their traffickers in civil court, free from time limits to launch a suit and without the need to prove the abuse caused damages.

It would also be easier for police to get warrants to enter a place to get a victim out of an abusive situation. 

The legislation would also adopt international definitions of human trafficking and create a human trafficking awareness day on Feb. 22.

Human trafficking would include sex trafficking, forced labour trafficking and organ or tissue trafficking.

The government says police dealt with 228 human trafficking incidents in Canada in 2018, 12 of which were in Alberta.

Most of the changes would take effect Dec. 31, 2020.

NDP wants changes to mobile homes bill

Although the NDP campaigned on giving mobile home tenants access to the government dispute resolution board, it takes issue with some of the details in Bill 3, the Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Amendment Act.

The Opposition intends to propose six amendments to the bill. It wants the dispute resolution board to hear claims over $50,000 for when landowners fail to adequately maintain roads or snow removal.

In a letter to the minister of Service Alberta, NDP MLA Jon Carson argued parties should have access to the board immediately, rather than in the fall; that application should be free during the pandemic; and that rent should be frozen while disputes are before the board.

The legislature is scheduled to sit Wednesday and Thursday, including into Wednesday evening.

The premier also plans to discuss Alberta's COVID-19 pandemic modelling predictions in the legislature this week.

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