Drone Pilot SchoolIncreasing police calls in Stratford, P.E.I., show rising curiosity in drones

October 7, 2021by helo-10
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STRATFORD, P.E.I. — Drones flying through neighbourhoods and around houses are becoming more popular in Stratford as more people take up the hobby.

At a Town of Stratford council meeting on Sept. 8., Cpl. Mike Lutley with the RCMP reported the Stratford dispatch had received a call in August of a drone flying outside someone’s window.

While no evidence of someone flying a drone near the home was found, and no other calls were received, Lutley told council those types of calls were increasing.

“We’re getting more and more calls from citizens, not necessarily always with complaints all the time, more kind of curious what the laws surrounding drones are currently,” Lutley said in an interview with The Guardian. “A lot of people are reporting they are flying around neighbourhoods, not necessarily looking into people’s windows or their properties, but flying around houses and streets.”

Drones flying through neighbourhoods and around houses are becoming more popular in Stratford as more people take up the hobby. – SaltWire Network File Photo

Lutley said over the last year, Stratford RCMP has received between seven and 10 drone-related calls, a number that has increased over the last few years.

For the most part, any calls on drones usually end with officers educating the pilots on the rules and regulations. Lutley said he couldn’t think of an instance where criminal activity with a drone was suspected but assured that complaints are taken seriously.

“If someone has a complaint where they feel there is an invasion of privacy or something along those lines, then by all means we open an investigation, look into it and follow up accordingly,” said Lutley. “If we can prove someone is flying a drone and is breaching someone’s privacy, looking into someone’s windows and stuff, we could look at charging them with some type of voyeurism. If someone is repeatedly watching someone on their own property with a drone, we could look at possible charges for criminal harassment, depending on if the element of the offence is present.”


Related


Outside of trespassing and privacy laws, drones have their own set of rules and regulations under Transport Canada pilots need to follow. However, drones under 250 grams are not subject to a few important rules, such as the need to register the drone or have a basic drone pilot certificate.

Lutley said most of the drones related to calls officers respond to are usually in this smaller category.

Jamie Smitheram, manager of retail and customer services at Great Hobbies, said drone flying on P.E.I. is a mixed bag in terms of popularity, with the market on cheap hobby-grade drones completely crumbling over the years.

Lee Dodson, left, of Skygate Drone Services and the Atlantic Drone Flight School, said smaller, under 250 g drones are becoming more popular. These drones are excluded from some Transport Canada rules, but still need to abide by other guidelines. - Contributed
Lee Dodson, left, of Skygate Drone Services and the Atlantic Drone Flight School, said smaller, under 250 g drones are becoming more popular. These drones are excluded from some Transport Canada rules, but still need to abide by other guidelines. – Contributed

“I think it was a bit of a fad,” he said. “There wasn’t, you know 10 to 15 years ago, these little machines just bigger than a Loonie you could fly in your living room. When all that stuff came out, it was a big fad and that market eventually got over saturated. It’s no longer a big deal, everyone has seen drones fly. The novelty has worn off considerably.”

However, Smitheram said higher-end drones used for aerial photography or first-person view racing remain popular.

When told about the increase of calls to police involving drones, Smitheram said he has talked to some customers who’ve been stopped by cops while flying their drones, most of which were flying without considering where they were.

“I’ve had a few customers who have had the police called on them, as people were concerned about what the person flying the drone was doing,” he said. “I’ve never heard of anyone getting a ticket or anything like that, but I’ve definitely had customers who were flying their drones, weren’t doing it properly and got in trouble.”

Like Lutley, Smitheram said these instances are rare and often aren’t intentional. He said he’s only heard of four or five incidents over the last few years.

Often, the argument against drones flying over someone’s property is that it’s illegal. However, Lee Dodson, drone pilot for Skygate Drone Services and operator of the Atlantic Drone Flight School in Slemon Park, said if the pilot is following all Transport Canada rules, flying over private property is allowed.

“If Transport Canada have approved a pilot to be in some airspace, and that airspace is over private property, they can legally fly over that property in the same way a jumbo jet can,” he said.


Rules at a glance:

In 2017, Transport Canada laid out new rules and requirements for drone pilots to follow, including:

  • Those piloting a drone weighing 250 grams or over require either a basic or advanced drone pilot certificate (drones under 250 grams excluded).
  • Drones weighing 250 grams or more must be registered (drones under 250 grams excluded).
  • Drones cannot be flown over 400 feet high.
  • Pilots cannot fly drones within 30 horizontal metres of a bystander.
  • Pilots must always be able to see their drone.
  • Those with a basic certificate must avoid airports by 5.6 kilometres and heliports by 1.9 kilometres.
  • Basic certificate pilots cannot fly in controlled airspace.
  • Drones must avoid flying near airplanes, helicopters and other drones.
  • Fines for not following these rules range from $1,000 to $3,000.

Source: Transport Canada


Lee Dodson is a drone pilot for Skygate Drone Services and operator of the Atlantic Drone Flight School in Slemon Park. - Contributed
Lee Dodson is a drone pilot for Skygate Drone Services and operator of the Atlantic Drone Flight School in Slemon Park. – Contributed

While that doesn’t offer much to those irritated by drones that may be flying around their property, Dodson said depending on how the drone is being used, claiming a drone is trespassing is possible.

“Now, there is an argument that has held up in law before, and that is if the drone is so low to be below the tree line or below the height of the building, it could be considered as trespassing,” he said. “Only then would the property owner have any right to claim the trespassing law.”

Claiming a drone is invading someone’s privacy is also difficult, as Dodson said bystanders would need to prove the drone’s camera was watching them or something private was being recorded.

“Obviously, if its hovering in front of the bedroom window, that’s a no brainer,” he said.

The best course of action for anyone dealing with an unwanted drone hovering around their property or overhead is to speak to the drone pilot themselves, as most will politely fly elsewhere, if possible, said Dodson, noting police involvement is usually not needed.

As for the increase in calls in Stratford, Lutley said RCMP isn’t worried about it becoming a big deal.

“I can say even the complaints made in Stratford, I wouldn’t consider this a major issue,” he said, “But we want to continue to educate the public on what the rules and regulations are with (drones), so hopefully that will be enough to keep people at ease.”


Things to know about drones

As hobby drones become more popular, there are a few things to know for anyone interested in picking up a new miniature quadcopter.

  • There are three different weight segments of drones: 250 grams and under, more popular for people just getting into drone piloting; 250 grams to 25 kg, often used for hobby photography or FPV racing; 25 kg and over, used for professional videography, search and rescue, surveying, etc.
  • If drone pilots are following all Transport Canada rules, drones are legally allowed to fly over private property if they are flying higher than the tree or building line and aren’t hovering above to record private activity.
  • Drones are prohibited from flying in Parks Canada properties, unless a permit has been given to the pilot. Only advanced certificate holders can apply for permits.
  • Drones are considered aircrafts and need to be treated as such. They cannot interfere with other air traffic, and bystanders should not attempt to force them out of the air by any means.
  • A basic drone pilot certificate can be obtained by completing an online multiple-choice exam, while an advanced certificate requires a review from a Transport Canada advanced drone flight reviewer.

Sources: Lee Dodson, Jamie Smitheram, Transport Canada


Cody McEachern is a reporter with the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island.

Twitter.com/CodyInHiFi





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