Ontario orders non-essential workplaces to close tonight at 11:59 p.m.


Check the list of essential workplaces carefully as you may be surprised.


Yesterday afternoon, the Ontario Government announced that it would order the mandatory closure of all “non-essential” workplaces, effective tonight at 11:59 p.m.

The Office of the Premier yesterday evening released the list of essential businesses which will be permitted to continue to operate in Ontario.  The list of essential services is expansive as compared to other jurisdictions and employers should not assume they are or are not an essential service without checking the list.

Essential businesses in Ontario include grocery stores and pharmacies, including the LCBO and cannabis stores, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, professional services, financial services and capital markets, including stock exchanges.

Businesses not on the “essential” list can still provide work and services online, by telephone or by mail or delivery, and teleworking and online commerce are permitted at all times for all businesses.

By comparison, Quebec also announced yesterday afternoon that it would order the mandatory closure of all non-essential workplaces and issued its list of essential services at the same time, with surprising differences from Ontario’s list.  For example, cannabis producers are on the list of essential services in Ontario, but not in Quebec unless they fall in the category of producing medications.  Mining businesses are essential in Ontario, even mineral exploration and development, but in Quebec mining complexes must reduce to a minimum of their activities. Real estate agents can continue to operate in Ontario but no provision has been made in Quebec to provide for real estate closings.  Law firms (including SkyLaw) are an essential workplace in Ontario but would not be in Quebec.

The length of the closures is uncertain.  The news release issued by the Office of the Premier at 1:30 p.m. yesterday said the closures would be in effect for 14 days with the possibility of extending the order, but yesterday’s 8:30 p.m. news release omitted any reference to a deadline, perhaps signalling that there will not be an end date to the order.  Quebec’s premier announced that Quebec will be “on hold for three weeks”.

It can be difficult to find the actual orders in council that implement the statements made by our leaders at press conferences. Ontario’s orders in council can be found here but the latest posts are the March 17, 2020 series of orders closing all restaurants, theatres, libraries, private schools, etc. and prohibiting gatherings of over 50 people.  To our knowledge, the actual order in council implementing the closure of non-essential workplaces is not yet available online despite today’s deadline.

All Canadians are facing excruciating challenges during this crisis. We call on our leaders to provide clear, consistent and timely information so that we can continue to do our best for our employees, our clients, our families and our communities in these difficult times.