Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—Privacy and Safety

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, don’t you like those questions from ordinary Canadians? Thank you to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. These questions from ordinary Canadians are opening things up. Did you see the article last week in the Ottawa Citizen, the op-ed piece about opening up the Senate? That was pretty interesting and positive of having Canadians asking these questions, I thought. It’s good reading for all of us, particularly our members opposite. It shows that we’re doing things differently in the Senate, not to mention in our open caucus. Just thought that I would throw that in. It’s nice.

Mr. Leader, I have a question from Mr. Matthew Dillon-Leitch of Markham, Ontario, concerning drones and the impact on privacy.

Just for background, honourable senators, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, are increasingly being used for military, commercial and recreational purposes. With a growing number of reports of drones buzzing around outside apartment windows and over backyards, Canadians like Mr. Dillon-Leitch are increasingly concerned about their impact on privacy, and he has submitted the following questions:

Currently, Transport Canada is responsible for managing and regulating drones for civil and commercial purposes. Existing legislation, however, focuses on air safety without addressing privacy concerns. Considering the growing popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles across Canada, what is the government doing to ensure that a reasonable expectation of privacy is protected?

Why are drones permitted to fly and assist in surveillance without the necessary laws and regulations in place to respect the privacy of Canadians?

How would a Canadian even report such a crime if the operator of the device was out of sight and lacked any visual signifiers?

Oh, one other question from Mr. Dillon-Leitch:

What is the government doing to ensure that Canadians have recourse if their privacy is invaded by drones and their operators?


Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): I find that Canadians ask very interesting and varied questions. Some of my colleagues opposite should sometimes use the questions asked by ordinary Canadians rather than coming up with their own. Obviously, I really appreciate these questions.

As you know, when it comes to the use of drones and the violation of privacy, the issue is the limits of rights. The rights of an individual end where the rights of others begin. Privacy is an area of provincial jurisdiction that is generally governed under the civil law in Quebec and the common law in the other provinces. Obviously, these devices must not be used to violate privacy.

I remember some municipal cases where people raised the problem of surveillance cameras that were installed on one property but were sometimes capturing images of the property next door. That can create problems between neighbours.

These are more often than not civil law cases, which fall under provincial jurisdiction.


Senator Munson: Without appearing to be droning on here, you just droned on about provincial matters. The question from me — sorry, I’m going to have to ask this question — may not be as succinct as the citizen’s question.

You said provincial matters, but while Transport Canada has formed a UAV working group to propose amendments to existing regulations and currently requires commercial operators of UAVs weighing over 35 kilograms to obtain a special permit, their focus remains primarily on air safety.

In this debate, provincial matter or not, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has issued a research paper on the use of drones in Canada and their impact on privacy. It asserts a need

. . . to circumscribe their use within an accountability structure that ensures they are justified, necessary and proportional . . . .

The report notes that:

Even in a hypothetical case where someone has an indication that their privacy may be violated by the operation of a UAV, it may prove challenging for individuals to produce sufficient evidence in support of their complaint under the Privacy Act or PIPEDA, particularly when dealing with unmarked or covert surveillance.

This is the issue for Mr. Dillon-Leitch, and he’s asked that question. I will ask it again. Provincial matters or not, Ottawa is involved in this debate.

What is the government doing to ensure that Canadians have recourse if their privacy is invaded by drones and their operators?


Senator Carignan: The government’s actions regarding drones centre mainly on the safe use of these devices. Furthermore, on October 21, 2014, Minister Raitt launched a national campaign on drone safety, the goal of which is to help Canadians understand their responsibilities and comply with Canada’s safety laws.

Your question is about the invasion of privacy when a drone is flying over someone’s property and could take photos of that property, of someone’s private life or their home. The part you referred to is taken from the national campaign launched by Minister Raitt on drone safety. I could read you part of the news release, which basically states that the Government of Canada’s awareness campaign on the safe use of unmanned air vehicles, also known as drones or UAVs, will help ensure that UAV users — both recreational and commercial — understand the rules of the skies and always think safety first.

The first phase of the campaign provides Canadians with new safety guidelines and an easy-to-follow infographic that clarifies when to apply for Transport Canada permission to fly their UAV.

This winter, there will also be a second phase to the campaign that will include ads on search engines and in social media, awareness videos and a simplified process for applying for authorization to operate a drone. In addition, on October 21, security guidelines were introduced to complement the current requirements designed to inform the public about the risks and responsibilities of using drones. We are offering Canadians the information and advice they need to use drones safely and legally.