Nova Scotia

Cape Breton police say emergency powers have helped with snow clearing on streets

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and the mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality have been in a war of words over CBRM’s declaration of a local state of emergency.

But Cape Breton Regional Police say the measure has helped with street clearing efforts after a mountain of snow fell over the weekend.

Under the municipal overnight parking ban, police can only tow vehicles between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., but under a state of emergency, vehicles can be towed any time, Const. Gary Fraser said Tuesday.

In the 48 hours after the emergency was declared, police handled 153 calls for vehicles abandoned or otherwise blocking roads, and about 20 were towed including eight overnight on Monday, he said.

“We’re still asking people to stay off the roads, allow Public Works to do their job, and more stranded cars overnight,” he said. “It’s amazing that this far into the storm, people are still out getting stuck.”

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has questioned whether CBRM’s state of emergency is a publicity stunt, saying it won’t get equipment there sooner or plow a road quicker. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

On Sunday, CBRM’s mayor and councillors criticized the government for not declaring a provincewide state of emergency.

During a provincial update on Monday, Houston questioned whether CBRM’s local state of emergency was merely a publicity stunt.

“Obviously, you can fine people that are out unnecessarily on the road,” the premier said. “You can confiscate property. You can enter property, but what it does not do is speed up access to equipment. It does not get a road plowed any quicker.”

However, Mayor Amanda McDougall told CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton on Tuesday that police needed the declaration.

“We are ticketing people. We are trying to get people off of those roadways,” she said. “That is a direct authority that came from the state of local emergency.”

A woman with auburn hair and large glasses sits at a computer monitor with a Nova Scotia flag in the background.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says having police ticket and tow vehicles is a direct result of the state of emergency and it has helped crews clear streets. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The emergency measure also gives police the authority to pull over drivers to determine why they are out on the roads. Fraser said he pulled over three vehicles himself.

“They were going for gas and groceries, so that was allowable,” he said. “I mean, they need that stuff for their snowblowers and they need food to eat, so I just sent them on their way and thanked them very much. We have to have a reason to stop a vehicle and with the state of emergency, that allowed us the reason to stop vehicles.”

Sydney was hit with 150 centimetres of snow between Friday night and Sunday night, while the storm left between 40 and 100 centimetres in other parts of the province, mostly east of Lunenburg.

Fraser said the declaration has given police the authority to help with the cleanup effort.

“It’s an aid that we use to help us get through this,” he said. “Was it necessary? I can’t say. I guess maybe the numbers at the end of the day, when this is all over, will dictate that.”

CBRM’s state of emergency expires on Sunday, unless council lifts it sooner.

To extend it, they would need permission from the province.

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