The Oak Bay Police have received three complaints over the past week regarding small remote controlled, unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, flying over and around private residences in Oak Bay.
“These commercially available drones, usually equipped with cameras or digital imaging equipment, have many valuable and effective uses, when used legitimately,” said Oak Bay community liaison officer Const. Rick Anthony. “However in each of these complaints, the purpose appears to have been merely meddlesome and intrusive.”
Everyone has a reasonable expectation of privacy within the confines of their own homes and private spaces, said Anthony, but there has been an increasing incidence of disturbing drone use recently here and in the Greater Vancouver area.
The number one issue with drones and other multi-rotor, or quad helicopters, is safety, said David Carlos of Victoria Aerial Photos and Survey, a professional UAV/drone aerial photography business. “There is the commercial world, then there is the amateur world where people do it for fun – there are rules people need to follow no matter what side they’re on.”
Carlos is a licensed pilot who says he has to map and register each of his flights with Transport Canada.
“There is a 100-foot (30-metre) buffer zone between model aircraft, drones, multi-rotors and people,” he said. Drones and other unmanned aircraft should not be flown close to people due to safety risks.
“The drones you can buy online are powerful – the people that sell them say they’re easy to fly, but that’s not true.” He noted one accident on the Lower Mainland where a man’s arm was broken by a rotor. “And he had prop guards on it. Imagine if that hit his face.”
As a professional UAV pilot, Carlos said he is beginning to see a new interest in drone flying and indicated there is a huge vacuum in training.
“They can go out of control,” he said of the machines, despite GPS and autopilot. “GPS can be lost, computer algorithms can sometimes jam and shut down for no reason. When you’re trained as a professional you can assume manual control. To do that, you need a high level of skill and training.”
In the case of the Oak Bay complaints, both were private residences that had not invited or hired anyone to do any surveying with a camera equipped drone.
“The residents were upset by the invasion of privacy and reported these unusual circumstances to the police,” Anthony said. In one of the incidents a man was seen in the area and was approached by the resident, but left the scene before police arrived.
Transport Canada regulates drones or UAVs, by requiring users to apply for a special flight operation certificate.
However, under current Canadian law, anyone can fly a UAV weighing less than 35 kilograms if they fly below 400 feet, or 122 metres.
If you hire someone to take aerial photos or video, make sure they are certified, said Carlos. “If they’re not, it’s a direct violation of federal law and the fine can be $5,000.”
If you’re flying a UAV make sure you follow the rules and stay below 122 metres and at least 30-metres away from people. “I think the recreational guys recognize that – it’s common sense,” said Carlos. “If you are doing it in a residential area, it raises questions. If you’re a recreational flyer, you go out to a field or a school ground, you don’t fly in a neighbourhood.”
Police are still investigating leads in these cases.
To learn more about the professional use of drones, go to victoriairphotos.com.
Did you know?
• David Carlos and Victoria Aerial Photos and Survey is working with Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue.
S.W.A.R.M. (Search With Aerial Rc Multi-rotor) is a worldwide volunteer search and rescue network of SAR drone pilots dedicated to searching for missing persons at no cost to the local SAR organization or families. Their primary mission is to offer and provide drone and fixed wing aerial search platforms for ongoing Search and Rescue operations, and to create increased awareness about the benefits of RC and autonomous drone technology.
• Anyone found intruding in the personal space or boundaries of a private residence could be subject to a variety of criminal charges, depending on the circumstances. Charges of Mischief (interfering with the lawful enjoyment of your property), Voyeurism, or Criminal Harassment could be applicable if there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing.