Drones, especially recreational drones, are fast becoming ubiquitous. Their increase in popularity shows no signs of slowing down, and nor do the number of drone-related incidents. Canadian authorities saw a 100 percent increase in the number of drone-related incidents in 2016 from 2015, including reported “near misses” with commercial aircraft, collisions with vehicles, as well as an attempt to drop contraband into a prison yard.

On March 16, 2017, Canada’s Minister of Transportation, Marc Garneau, unveiled new prohibitions and penalties for recreational drone operators in an Interim Order Respecting the Use of Model Aircraft, effective immediately. While recreational users were previously required to abide by certain guidelines and fly their drones in compliance with aviation safety, various requirements now must be observed to avoid a fine of up to $3,000. Safety is the stated key concern for the regulatory officials as they attempt to contain the number of incidents involving drones and educate the public on the risks and need for safe operations.

Recreational users flying drones weighing between 250g and 35kg now must adhere to the following rules of flight:

    a. Remain below 90m;

    b. Remain at least 75m away from buildings, structures, vehicles, vessels, animals and the public; and at least 9km away of an aerodrome;

    c. Avoid controlled or restricted airspace;

    d. Avoid forest fires; and

    e. Avoid flying over or within a police or emergency responder perimeter; or open-air assemblies of people.

In addition, recreational flights can only be conducted during the day, in areas free of cloud, within 500m of the operator and within the operator’s visual line of sight. Operators must display their name, address and telephone numbers on the drones at all times.

Generally, regulatory fines levied against recreational users will be adjudicated by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada (TATC). The TATC is a quasi-judicial body established under the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act. If charged with a violation of any of the recreational drone regulations, a drone operator will be required to pay the prescribed fine or dispute the charges before the TATC. With a mandate to conduct informal, expeditious and fair hearings, the TATC will hear evidence relating to the charges and make determinations on the appropriate penalty (monetary or otherwise). The TATC will also make determinations relating to charges under the Canadian Aviation Regulations for breaches of the drone regulations applicable to commercial operators (such as violations of a special flight operating certificate issued by Transport Canada or failures to comply with the exemption requirements).

Dangerous conduct with a drone can attract criminal charges, particularly if the drone endangers the safe operation of an aircraft or interferes with any air navigation facility. In addition, as serious privacy concerns arise with the operation or drones, operators who use the drone to spy on others may be liable for criminal charges or exposed to civil liability for breach of privacy, trespass and/or nuisance.

The practical upshot of the Interim Order is that recreational drones cannot be used near built up areas (and certainly not in major city centres). Drone owners who live in built up areas may no longer be able to operate their drone around their backyard, at the beach or in a community park. Manufacturers of recreational drones may worry that the stricter regulations will dampen sales; however, with the unbridled pace with which technology continues to advance, it is difficult to see how the regulations will slow the public’s desire to take to the skies.