What is Bill 70?
Multiple provinces across Canada have implemented legislation to create liability protection against COVID-19 for employers and their workers in health sectors. As of June 17, 2021, Alberta joins these provinces with Bill 70, more commonly known as the COVID-19 Related Measures Act ("Bill 70").
In short, Bill 70 provides assurance to health service providers and employers, that they cannot be held liable for damages due to COVID-19 (spread, exposure or otherwise) assuming they followed public health orders, guidance and legislation.
Bill 70 specifically applies to:
- a health service facility, including an owner, operator, director, officer, employee, contractor and subcontractor of a health service facility;
- a regional health authority, including a member, officer, employee, agent, contractor and subcontractor of a regional health authority;
- a regulated member as defined in the Health Professions Act, including an employee, contractor and subcontractor of a regulated member;
- any other facility, person or class of persons prescribed in the regulations.
The above definitions encapsulate a variety of health care services including long-term care facilities, addiction treatment centers, and pharmacies, to name a few.
In order to receive the benefit of Bill 70's liability protection, the protected person or business must have either:
- Been acting or made a good faith effort to act in accordance with either applicable public health guidance; or
- Acting in accordance with federal, provincial, or municipal laws related to COVID-19.
Within Bill 70, "public health guidance" and "good faith" are broadly defined, thus leaving the actions of parties open to contextual interpretation.
What doesn't Bill 70 cover?
Bill 70 does not apply to any action brought against an employer through other means of administrative processes or proceedings (such as Occupational Health and Safety or the Employment Standards Code, among others). Furthermore, Bill 70 does not apply if:
- The act or omission of an individual or organization rises to the level of gross negligence; or
- If the act occurred while a facility was required by law to close in whole, or in part.
Gross negligence is not defined in Bill 70 but is well established within the judicial system.
What else should we consider?
The legislation is in effect retroactively to March 1, 2020.
Bill 70 may be of great concern to individuals and class action members who have already filed suit against continuing care facilities and other organizations. With Bill 70 now in effect, those parties may need to consider if the complaints in their respective claims would amount to gross negligence. This legislation also raises questions of whether it will be expanded to cover other types of employers, such as the service industry, some of whom are faced with similar class action lawsuits.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.