North American emergencies: The use of emergency powers in Canada and the United States

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Although the United States and Canada have had quite different constitutional frameworks, their uses of emergency powers through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were very similar. In the nineteenth century, national troops were used to put down local rebellions in both countries, often at the request of local governors. With World War I, however, both moved to a statute-based system of regulating emergencies. In Canada, the War Powers Act provided broad delegations of power from the parliament to the executive. In the U.S., delegations were also broad, but accomplished through a series of smaller statutes. These frameworks lasted until abuses of emergency powers were exposed in both countries in the 1970s. And there the parallel history ended. Canada adopted a comprehensive constitutional revision that brought all emergency powers within constitutional understandings. The U.S., on the other hand, continued its use of statutory patches to regulate the relationship between the executive and legislature in times of crisis. As a result, the reactions of the two countries to the events of 9/11 were quite different. Canada responded with a moderate use of exceptional powers, while the US plunged into more extreme uses of emergency powers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-243
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Journal of Constitutional Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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