More flooding questions
YLJ FILE PHOTO/BRIAN GALLAGHER
Individual rights versus collective rights
Q.In the recent floods, municipal authorities used (abused?) their power to force evacuations. Under what circumstances do state powers trump an individual's right to protect person and property?
A.The extraordinary powers given to municipalities are in the Civil Protection Act. Unfortunately, individual rights may be trumped in a declared state of emergency for the greater good. The law seeks to protect the general population, their health or physical integrity. Sometimes there are also unseen benefits for recalcitrant homeowners who may not realize the water in their house is seriously contaminated. Others must not distract relief efforts.
During the recent state of emergency declared by many municipal authorities an elite dedicated provincial team responsible went into action setting up, within hours, coordination centers that involve managing the Sûreté du Québec (SQ, various ministries such as transportation, health organizations, municipal authorities, volunteers, and in some cases the army, shelters, and call centers.
This team comes in to coordinate efforts when the disaster surpasses the management capacity of a single municipality or the disaster extends beyond its boundaries.
On the terrain this civil protection team has a huge and scary job. They practice for it all the time. They, or the municipality, cannot be sued, the law states, for, ‘any act in good faith done in the exercise of such powers.’ Bad faith would be surprising with security necessarily being their top priority. Undermining individual rights is exceptional. As a general thought, forget the liability of mayors. They rely heavily and forcibly on these provincial experts for decision-making. Bad faith in any case would not reside long in a neighborhood where sanitation, evacuation, and disaster management are foremost on everyone’s mind. More likely, if there was a problem, it would be because of negligence or inexperience, which are different standards than acting in good faith with no intent to deceive. The law protects decisions taken while acting in good faith.
Scope versus payout
Q. Why do governments provide relief for victims of a large disaster and not to those of a more contained disaster (say a forest fire affecting only a few houses)?
A. Actually the law provides for minor disaster assistance, which in theory could be for just one house. Many people just don’t think of reporting it to the municipality where they live. It has to be reported first to the municipality who can then inform the Minister of Public Security who may then have, or put in place, an assistance program, financial or otherwise. These assistance programs vary in their scope and generosity. For instance, in the recent flood, the general provincial program was deemed insufficient and a special wider-ranging program was quickly developed and applied. Every disaster such as a forest fire or flood affecting a small group of houses should be reported to both insurers and the municipality.
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