Regulators in Canada and the United States are in the process of setting and updating the rules that govern both the commercial and recreational operational uses of drones. Any Canadian—whether an individual flying in their backyard or an employee of a company using it for business purposes—would do well to study up on the do’s and don’ts first.
Laura Emmett, a lawyer at Lerners LLP in London, Ont., is a rare specialist in the emerging field. She talked with us about the present and future of drone laws in Canada.
What is the status of drone laws here in Canada?
There are some regulations that Transport Canada has issued, which really have to do with drones that weigh more than 35 kilograms if they’re being operated for recreation, or if they weigh more than 25 kilograms and are being used for commercial purposes.
There’s a certificate you have to get if you want to fly it. There are also various rules for commercial operation but not really much for recreational use.
What are some of the rules on the commercial side?
The biggest one is depending on how much your drone weighs, you have to register and get a special operation certificate, and that’s obtained at a Transport Canada office. Commercial operators aren’t following that and that can open them up [to liability].
How difficult are these certificates to obtain?
There are programs now that are being operated. For example, Fanshawe College (in London, Ont.) had one at the beginning of May for individuals who need to be certified. It was a week-long program.
I believe other organizations are starting to offer similar programs as well. There was one in the Ottawa area that I’m aware of.
How does Canada compare to other jurisdictions such as the U.S.? Are we ahead or behind in regulating drones?
Canada is ahead with respect to licensing drones. Transport Canada has issued a lot more certificates for operations than the [U.S. Federal Aviation Authority].
Why is that?
I’m not sure. It’s surprising because Canada isn’t always ahead of the U.S. in certain areas. The most recent statistic I saw about it, in 2015 there were 2,480 drone certificates issued whereas the FAA from late 2014 to the end of 2015 issued only 2,700 certificates. Given the size of the U.S., it’s quite a bit different.
What attracted you to this area?
I was looking at expanding my practice and trying to look at emerging areas. Given the amount of drones that are being purchased, it’s going to be an emerging area.
I still do primarily claims relating to motor vehicle accidents and I do a fair amount of statutory accident benefits, defending those on behalf of the insurance companies.
What sort of incidents are you seeing?
The most common issues are drones being operated too close to airports and causing safety issues. In May, there was the incident in Ottawa where fighter jets were dispatched after two airplanes reported a drone flying too close to the landing route.
One of the requirements is that you’re not supposed to be operating a drone within nine kilometres of an airport and that’s getting a lot of people in trouble. There are very serious safety concerns with that and Transport Canada is focusing on creating a publicity campaign on “no drone zones,” to try and get the word out there about how dangerous it can be.
There was a case recently about a woman in Quebec who was injured by a drone while she was doing a run. There was a drone that was flying overhead and it fell and struck her and caused her injury, so she issued a claim.
That will continue to happen, unfortunately, as there are more and more drones operated across the country.
Besides airports, are drones banned anywhere else? Do businesses have the prerogative to ban them from their properties?
Transport Canada has issued a do’s and don’ts of what to do when you’re flying and where you’re not allowed to fly. They’re in the process of bolstering those regulations.
Currently, the no drone zones would include aerodromes, and limitations for flying them in national parks. There are recommendations for not flying drones over populated areas or moving vehicles, they’re concerned about distracted driving, and there are requirements for flying them indoors. Depending on what you’re using it for, you have to be licensed.
Another recommendation from Transport Canada is that the drone is only to be operated within sight, you have to be able to see it flying.
If a business doesn’t want a drone over its property, what can be done about that?
To be honest, I’m not sure. There’s nothing specifically about it. [The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act] would apply, I guess, if employee or personal information was being gathered. You could file a complaint, but I’m not sure if there’s any mechanism right now to address if you don’t like it flying over your business.
Both the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Information Privacy Commissioner of Ontario have said the privacy legislation does apply to drones. There’s a big risk where people are flying drones over areas and are capturing this personal information. PIPEDA gives personal information a very broad definition.
If an individual thought their information was being collected, they could file a complaint. The other component of that is that companies aren’t allowed to indiscriminately allowed to collect information, there has to be a purpose for it. That would also be triggered if a drone operator were just flying over people.
The other problem is that if you see a drone flying overhead and you don’t like it, it’s hard to tell who’s flying it, right?
Yes, that’s a big issue. It’s one of the pieces of new regulation that’s hopefully going to be rolled out by Transport Canada. If there’s a drone and it’s interfering with air flight paths, there’s no way of specifically identifying it. It’s something the government is considering.
Could this be some sort of RFID identifier for the drone or something like that?
The difficulty is that if it’s just marked on the drone, it might not be readable. An RFID chip would be of assistance, so it’ll be interesting to see how they address that.
What do you expect to be the big changes over the next year or two?
Hopefully the new regulations will be implemented so there can be some clarifications in terms of some of these other issues. With the increased reports of drones flying near airports, there is a call for that to happen sooner rather than later.
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