Questions and Answers about The Public Health Act

What is public health legislation?

Public health legislation sets in law the standards, rules and powers used to protect the public’s health.  Some provincial examples include The Water Protection Act and The Non-Smokers Health Protection Act.  The term “public health legislation” refers specifically to both the current and the new Public Health Act.

Why was Manitoba’s Public Health Act changed?

The former act had many of the provisions needed to protect the public, but it was put in place in 1965 and needed an update to reflect today’s public health concerns. The new act helps the province prepare and respond to modern public health risks by:

  • allowing health officials to take immediate action on a health hazard that presents a serious and immediate threat to public health;
  • providing stronger powers to medical officers of health, so they can issue orders to minimize the risk of communicable diseases;
  • enabling the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer to use special measures to respond to an epidemic or threat of an epidemic;
  • improving how information is shared between health officials to plan for and deal with threats to public health;
  • authorizing the Minister to create a provincial health surveillance system; and
  • defining the powers  of public health officials.

What are some of the major differences between the former legislation and the new Public Health Act?

The new act contains a number of new provisions, including:

  • the appointment of a chief provincial public health officer to oversee the provincial public health system and the role of public health officials;
  • more comprehensive powers to deal with communicable diseases and health hazards that  allow public health  officials to take appropriate action; and
  • raising fine levels for non-compliance with the act, consistent with other public protection legislation.

How does the new act help protect the public against pandemics and public health emergencies?

New provisions in the act enhance the province’s ability to take immediate, effective action during a public health emergency like a pandemic.  It ensures that public health officials have the necessary authority to take action that will prevent the spread of disease or other health hazards, including quarantine and isolation measures, closures of public places, ordering hospital infection control procedures and seizure or destruction of hazardous materials.

Under the revised legislation, how extensive are the powers to enforce quarantine and other protective measures during an outbreak?

During an outbreak, many of the enforcement powers of public health officials would be similar to those that already exist. 

Medical Officers of Health (MOHs) will be able to order immunization, quarantine, isolation or treatment for individuals who are at risk of spreading serious diseases or health hazards to others.  People could also be ordered to stay away from their jobs or other group activities to help control the spread of disease. 

MOHs can order the apprehension and detainment of individuals at risk of spreading virulent and highly contagious diseases.  This level of enforcement would be used only if an individual refuses to follow medical orders intended to prevent the spread of disease or control a health hazard. 

The act also clarifies the limitations of these powers and states that any restriction of rights or freedoms must be no greater than is reasonably necessary to respond to the threat.

How will the new Public Health Act change powers or responsibilities of health officials?  Will the government be given more extensive powers under the new act?

  • issuing direction to the RHAs, healthcare facilities, ambulance services and providers on how to respond to the threat;
  • identifying and delivering a premises to use as a temporary isolation or quarantine facility; and
  • prohibiting public gatherings.

In the new act, are there protections in place for people affected by a public health official’s orders (ex: if a person is ordered to be under quarantine)?

The act states that orders made by MOHs can be reconsidered and reviewed.  A judicial review is also available.  The act builds in accountability, because public health officials must provide a public annual report to the minister that details the circumstances around the use of the emergency powers. 

How does the Public Health Act protect people’s privacy when information is collected by public health officials to monitor communicable diseases or control the spread of hazardous agents?

Health officials may request or disclose information to administer the Act or determine compliance.  Identifying information must only be collected or disclosed when anonymous or aggregate information cannot be used.  Only the minimum amount of identifying information necessary must be collected or disclosed.   A regulation has been developed to dictate how this information can be collected, used and disclosed.  Personal information, personal health information or business information collected by public health officials must be protected in a manner that meets the requirements of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Personal Health Information Act.

How does this legislation fit within the broader context of public health and public security?

The act builds on the framework established after 9-11 and will update Manitoba’s legislation for public health functions like disease and injury prevention and control, health surveillance, protection and promotion and population health assessment.

Are measures to improve health promotion being considered in the new act?

The Minister may establish guidelines and standards for public health services, which includes health promotion. 

Will this legislation add any financial burden on the health care system and taxpayers?

The act itself does not have any financial impacts on the health care system or taxpayers. 

Will this act affect provincial authority over municipalities in the areas of environmental protection (ex: water, air, etc.)?

This act does not significantly change provincial authority over municipalities in these areas, since they are primarily dealt with by other legislation. 

Will the new act result in the downloading of provincial responsibility for public health protection and improvement to local governments?

Public health protection is a shared responsibility between Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living, regional health authorities, municipal governments and many others.  The new act clarifies how this responsibility is shared, but doesn’t add any new roles for municipal governments. 

When did the new legislation come into effect?

The act took effect on April 1, 2009.

For more information on regulated health professions, please contact:

Legislative Unit
Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living
300 Carlton Street
Winnipeg MB  R3B 3M9
Phone:  204-788-6608
FAX:      204-945-1020