Canada Implements New Rules for Flying Recreational Drones

Canada is getting tough on the use of recreational drones due to a large increase in the number of reported safety incidents involving drones in the last three years: 41 in 2014, 85 in 2015 and 148 last year. That’s more than a threefold increase in incidents within three years, and this number is expected to increase as the popularity of drones also continues to increase.

Canadian Transportation Minister Marc Garneau today announced new restrictions on where and when recreational drone users in Canada can fly their remote-controlled aerial vehicles. Citing incidents where drones have accidentally landed near people and on cars, he hoped the “strong measures” will prevent the reckless use of drones that puts the safety of the public at risk.

While some of these rules were previously guidelines (with no specific penalties), they are now law, effective immediately, and users who, knowingly or unwittingly, contravene them face a fine of up to CAD $3,000.

Drones weighing more than 250 grams (and up to 35 kg) cannot fly:

  • higher than 90 metres;
  • at night;
  • within 75 metres of buildings, vehicles or people; or
  • within 9 kilometres of the centre of any airport, heliport, aerodrome or water aerodrome where aircraft take off and land.

Additionally, you must mark your drone with your contact information (name, address and phone number); not allow it to fly more than 500 metres away from you; be able to visually see it (line of sight) at all times (e.g., not hidden in clouds or flying behind a building); and, not over forest fires, emergency response scenes and other controlled airspace.

In practical terms, this may effectively mean that you cannot recreationally fly a drone pretty much anywhere in a densely populated city.

Should you be caught contravening one of these rules, police officers have the discretion to issue a warning, apply the fine and even, if necessary, invoke the Criminal Code, citing criminal negligence or mischief in the case where there is harm to a person. Citizens who worry about their neighbours spying on them can also call the police to report a person flying a drone illegally.

So, does it mean we won’t be seeing those wonderful aerial videos of city lights at nights anymore? Well, these rules do not apply to operators of drones for commercial, academic or research purposes (who apply for permission to fly). The rules also do not apply if you are flying your drone at a site or event sanctioned by the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada. In fact, the Transport Minister encouraged people who want to fly their drones recreationally to contact the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada for safe flying zones.