A provincial court in Canada has ordered a man to pay nearly $7,400 (CAD 10,000) in penalties for piloting a drone near a wildfire in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. This is reportedly the “largest fine ever” issued for flying a drone illegally in a national park in Canada.
The Canada National Parks Act strictly limits the use of recreational drones near wildlife. Anyone caught operating a drone within the boundaries of a Canadian national park, without an approved permit, could face law enforcement action and a fine of up to $18,400 (CAD 25,000).
The incident in question took place on the afternoon of September 6, 2022, when eight helicopters were fighting a then-out-of-control wildfire on Chetamon mountain in Jasper National Park. They were forced to halt the bucketing operations for more than an hour after a drone was sighted in the area. Investigating officials found that a group of five males was using the drone to take photographs near Jasper Lake.
At a hearing last week, public prosecutor Dawn Poskocil told the court that the aircraft’s owner, Rajwinder Singh, had pleaded that he was neither aware of drone regulations nor “the fact that he was in Jasper National Park, despite the signs.”
Poskocil explained that operating the drone at that time breached Transport Canada’s drone regulations as well. According to Canadian aviation law, no aircraft may fly within a 5-nautical-mile radius of a wildfire for the safety of helicopters and aircraft involved in the fighting of forest fires. “Ongoing helicopter bucketing was less than 5 km from where Mr. Singh flew his drone,” she explained.
Dave Argument, a resource conservation officer with Parks Canada, pointed out at the hearing that grounding the firefighting helicopters could have had dire consequences. Explaining that a total of four instances of illegal drone users were charged during the Chetamon wildfire, he said:
This is a deadly serious matter. It runs the risk of losing control of the fire unnecessarily where we could be fighting it. Suddenly, we’re grounded and we lose our ability to action the fire while those machines are on the ground. It is really on the user to understand what the regulations are, what they can’t do and what they can do with these new tools that are becoming so widely available, and the consequences of their actions. Across the board, drone operation in national parks in Canada is illegal.
Drone pilot Singh has been given until June 8, 2023, by the court to pay the fine.
(Image for representational purposes only)