Heat Health Canada Establishes New Heat Division

The Heat Division’s activities to reduce illnesses and deaths related to extreme heat events in Canada

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency, severity, and duration of extreme heat events in Canada. In Toronto, Winnipeg and Fredericton the number of days above 30°C/86°F is predicted to double between 2041 and 2071 [1].

Extreme heat is associated with increased illness and deaths and poses a growing risk to the health of Canadians. The evidence shows high numbers of deaths during previous extreme heat events in Canada. For example, there was an estimated 106 heat related deaths [2] during a 3 day heat event in July 2010 in Montreal, Quebec. An analysis of the 2009 extreme heat event in British Columbia (an eight-day period where temperatures reached as high as 34.4°C/93.9°F) found it contributed to 156 deaths in the province's lower mainland area [3]. Recently, in late June / early July 2018, a 5 day heat event in eastern Canada broke several temperature records in several cities including Ottawa and Montreal. The media reported an estimated 70 deaths attributable to this event in the province of Quebec.  

Heat Alert Response Systems (HARS)

Since 2008, Health Canada has been working with communities across Canada to prepare for the expected increase in extreme heat events due to climate change and to reduce heat-related health risks. In 2017, Health Canada’s Heat Division was established to further support provinces and territories to implement and/or enhance Heat Alert and Response System(s) (HARS).

Heat Alert and Response Systems help public health, emergency management officials, and community and social service providers prepare for and respond to extreme heat events. HARS typically involves preparing the community for the heat season by identifying their needs and engaging partners. HARS also consists of a heat alert protocol used to alert the public of extreme heat events that could have potential health impacts, a community response plan to guide public health interventions, a communication plan, and an evaluation plan. HARS are designed to protect Canadians from the adverse health impacts of extreme heat events. The World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (2015) have identified that HARS help save lives during extreme heat events.

The Heat Division has three priorities: (1) Expanding HARS across Canada; (2) Increasing awareness of heat-related health impacts through health promotion and outreach; and (3) Building the science/evidence base to support the program.

Health Canada’s Heat Division is working with partners across Canada to implement and advance HARS. The Heat Division is also working on a plan to respond to emergency heat events in Canada. 

Health Promotion and Outreach

The Heat Division develops evidence-based information on climate change and health. Guidance is provided to health professionals and emergency managers on how to prepare for and respond to extreme heat events. This information is disseminated using a variety of outreach and engagement strategies to increase both public and professional education and provide opportunities for sharing best practices. Communication materials are developed for the public and health care professionals to increase awareness of the health impacts of extreme heat, including vulnerable populations and the protective actions to take before and during an extreme heat event. It also provides information to public health officials on HARS and guidance on how to implement such systems. 

Scientific Evidence Base

The Heat Division continues to use the scientific evidence base to support their work with provincial and territorial partners. It is supporting scientific research by reviewing and synthesizing existing heat physiology, epidemiology and intervention effectiveness research. This improves the understanding of the impacts of heat on human health to inform risk assessment, communication and management activities.

The Heat Division is working collaboratively with partners both nationally and internationally to advance action on reducing heat-related health risks. Please get in contact with us to learn more about our work to reduce illnesses and deaths related to extreme heat events in Canada.

Further details of work of the Climate Change and Innovation Bureau can be found at:


For more information, please contact: 

Dr. Shawn Donaldson, Heat Division Manager: shawn.donaldson@canada.ca 

[1] Casati B, Yagouti A, Chaumont D. (2013). Regional climate projections of extreme heat events in nine pilot Canadian communities for public health planning. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 52(12):2669-2698. doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0341.

[2] Bustinza R, Lebel G, Gosselin P, Bélanger D, Chebana F. (2013). Health impacts of the July 2010 heat wave in Québec, Canada. BMC Public Health, 13(1):56. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-56.

[3] Kosatsky, T. (2010). Hot Day Deaths, Summer 2009: What Happened and How to Prevent a Recurrence. British Columbia Medical Journal, 52(5): 261.