Canada's new drone laws make flying in urban areas virtually impossible

If you're a Canadian who owns a drone for purely recreational purposes, listen up because the Canadian government has just laid down the laws regarding where and when you can fly your drone.

And you're probably not going to like it.

As reported by CBC, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau announced the new rules along with the penalties for breaking them — a $3000 fine.

These rules cover all drones over 250 grams, and greatly restrict where you can fly, essentially ruling out any lawful drone flying in urban areas. You may not fly your drone:

  • Any higher than 90 meters (just under 300 feet).
  • Within 75 meters (250 feet) of buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals or people.
  • More than half a kilometre away from you.
  • At night, in clouds or somewhere you can't see it.
  • Within nine kilometres of somewhere aircraft takeoff or land, or a forest fire.
  • Without your name, address and phone number marked on the drone itself.
  • Over forest fires, emergency response scenes or controlled airspace.

So let's say you live in a fairly busy city and wish to fly your drone around at the local park. Chances are, under these new rules, you won't be able to do so legally. Most of these rules previously existed as best practise guidelines (see: common sense) for flying drones in public spaces, but until now there was no penalty attached. Intervening police could only penalize someone flying their drone dangerously if they were in violation of the Criminal Code, likely criminal negligence.

But there was clearly a need for stricter rules to be put into place, as Transport Canada has seen a distinct increase in safety incidents involving drones over the past three years: 41 in 2014, 85 in 2015 and 148 in 2016.

By comparison, in the U.S. the FAA rules state that you may not fly your drone higher than 400 feet and must always keep your UAV within sight at all times. There are also rules about flying your drones any place that might be a danger to the public, so flying near other aircraft, near airports, over groups of people, over stadiums or sports events or near emergency response efforts such as fires are all banned. Also, you're not allowed to fly under the influence, which seems like a bit of a no-brainer.

Transport Canada has seen a distinct increase in safety incidents involving drones over the past three years: 41 in 2014, 85 in 2015 and 148 in 2016.

As Motherboard reported, fines for American drone pilots have typically ranged from $400 to $5,500, with the largest fine falling on SkyPan, a drone-photography company that illegally flew drones over New York City and Chicago and recieved a $200,000 fine from the FAA.

Americans are also required to register their UAVs with the FAA if they're between .55 and 55 pounds, so if you've bought any of the more professional camera drones available out there, you'll definitely want to make sure they're registered so you don't find yourself in hot water.

So what do these new rules mean for Canadians looking to get into drone flying? Well for starters you'll want to affix a label of some sort to your drones with your name, address and phone number — which is just a good idea for anything with the capability to fly away off into the horizon on its own. And you'll of course need to be extremely wary of your surroundings wherever you are fly your drone.

If you're interested in drone racing, your best bet will be finding your local drone enthusiast club who may hold meet ups and other events in sanctioned spaces such as warehouses or gymnasiums. There's also FPV Canada, a small but growing community of drone pilots from across Canada.

If all else fails, you can always take some time to drive out into the abundant Canadian wilderness and practise your flying far away from any airports, buildings, vehicles and — perhaps most importantly — local authorities.

Marc Lagace

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.