As you might know if you follow me on Instagram, I purchased an unmanned aerial vehicle (i.e. a drone) earlier this year. Like many new Canadian drone owners, I quickly learned that there are numerous laws and regulations restricting when and where I’m allowed to fly. I won’t bother breaking down all of the rules that apply to drones that weigh over 250 grams but less than one kilogram (such as the DJI Spark that I’m currently flying). Suffice it for the purposes of this post that the restrictions imposed by Transport Canada require that these drones:
· Not be flow higher than 90 meters above the ground
· Not be flown farther than 500 meters away from the operator
· Be within sight of the operator at all times
· Not be flown within 30 meters of “vehicles, vessels and the public”
· Not be flown in National Parks
I was particularly disappointed when I learned about this last rule, since it meant that I would not be able to fly my drone during my annual trip to Bruce Peninsula National Park. However, I noted that the regulations said nothing about whether it’s legal to fly a drone in a provincial park. Armed with the smart-aleck curiosity of an administrative law nerd, I set out to discover whether operators are able to fly their drones in Ontario Provincial Parks such as Algonquin or Killarney.
My findings concerning the law on this point are ambiguous, to say the least. I began by conducting a review of the Ontario Parks website to see if I could find any rules relating to drones. Though I didn’t find anything applicable several months ago, I note that the Ontario Parks website now contains the following passage (which admittedly may have been live during my initial research) in response to the question of whether drones can be flow in provincial parks:
There are two considerations when answering this inquiry:
1) Operating (ie. landing/takeoff) a UAV with a provincial park; and
2) Operating (ie. landing/takeoff) a UAV outside a provincial park and flying a UAV over a provincial park.
A UAV (drone) is considered to be an “aircraft” under the Canadian Aviation Regulations.
In most cases, individuals are not permitted to operate (i.e. land) an “aircraft” in a provincial park under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA) with the exception of where an Aircraft Landing Authorization has been issued by the Park Superintendent in a provincial park listed under Section 33 of the PPCRA, Ontario Regulation 347/07.
A UAV can be flown over a provincial park, but not landed in a provincial park, provided that the operator complies with the PPCRA and associated regulations, Transport Canada Acts and regulations, and privacy laws. Some of these regulations may include but are not limited to:
Disturb other persons, make excessive noise, chase or harass wildlife, damage crown property or vegetation under the PPCRA;
Fail to comply with size restrictions or special operators certificates under Transport Canada Acts;
Capturing or posting unauthorized images under privacy laws.
As highlighted in the above passage, section 33 of Provincial Parks: General Provisions of the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserve Act, 2006 states that “[n]o person shall land an aircraft in a provincial park”.  Ontario Parks is currently relying on the definition of “aircraft” provided in the Canadian Aviation Regulations – which encompasses unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones – to interpret this word as it appears in this section of General Provisions. 
For students of administrative law, the position taken by Ontario Parks in the above passage should raise several red flags. Administrative actors enforcing the General Provisions (such as park superintendent or rangers) must rely on the express wording of their enabling legislation in order to exercise their statutory authority. If the interpretation of any word in this legislation is ambiguous, said actors must rely on either the applicable interpretation clause for that legislation or, alternatively, general principles of statutory interpretation to come up with a working definition for the use of that word.
The proposition that “[t]he interpretation of general terms in one statute cannot be assisted by reference to the interpretation clause of another statute” remains largely uncontested in Canadian law.  Although the jurisprudence on this point is somewhat sparse, the British Columbia Supreme Court’s ruling in Price v Price cited with favour the Privy Council’s holding from Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works v Adamsonthat:
… it is always unsatisfactory and generally unsafe to seek the meaning of words used in an Act of Parliament in the definition clauses of other statutes dealing with matters more or less cognate, even when enacted by the same Legislature. 
In other words, the word “aircraft” as it appears in the Canadian Aviation Regulations cannot be used to legally define the same word as it appears in the General Provisions, contrary to the position currently taken by Ontario Parks. One of the foundations of Canadian administrative law is that state actors must derive their authority from the express wording of their enabling statute. As the Supreme Court of Canada held in its landmark ruling in Roncarelli v Duplessis:
… no legislative Act can, without express language, be taken to contemplate an unlimited arbitrary power exercisable for any purpose, however capricious or irrelevant, regardless of the nature or purpose of the statute. 
As noted, section 33 of the General Provisionsprohibits the landing of aircraft in a provincial park. Section 1 of the General Provisions lays out the definitions for these regulations. The word “aircraft” is ultimately undefined under section 1, even though other types of vehicles (including “all-terrain vehicle”, “bus” and “boat”) are the subjects of detailed definitions. The word “aircraft” as it appears in section 33 must consequently be defined using judicial principles of statutory interpretation for the purpose of this regulation.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Rizzo Shoes Ltd. offers guidance on this point. Adopting the approach endorsed by Professor Driedger, the Court concluded that:
… the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament. 
If the word “aircraft” remains undefined for the purposes of section 33 of the General Provisions, how then is it to be interpreted using the Rizzo Shoes framework? In my opinion, there is significant uncertainty regarding how an Ontario court would apply this provision. Nevertheless, I would argue that a strong and compelling case can be made that the use of this word in this specific context does not include unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
Reading section 33 in its “entire context” and in its “grammatical and ordinary sense”, having regard to the general purpose of the Provincial Parks: General Provisions, it’s probable the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (who is responsible for drafting regulations pertaining to Ontario Parks) did not intend to restrict drone activity with this provision. Strictly speaking, if the word “aircraft” is interpreted as including drones, an individual could launch and fly a drone in an Ontario Park and not run afoul of section 33. It’s only once the “aircraft” has been landed that section 33 is triggered.
If the purpose of the General Provisions is to prevent damage to and disruption in provincial parks, it doesn’t make sense that the Minister would only seek to prohibit the landing of drones in Ontario Parks. Given the small size of most drones, if any damage or disruption is to occur it’s more likely to take place while the drone is in the air. Why then would the Minister not simply prohibit the flying of drones within provincial park boundaries, while maintaining a separate provision that larger aircraft cannot land in the park?
The use of the word “aircraft” in section 33 thus appears to refer to larger aerial vehicles such as floatplanes and helicopters, not drones. The drafting Minister is unlikely to have envisioned that an “aircraft” is something that could be carried into a provincial park by a person before taking off. I would maintain that the clear purpose of section 33 is to prevent larger aerial vehicles from entering into a provincial park, even if these vehicles are still permitted to fly overhead.
The above passage from Ontario Parks appears to tacitly confirm this interpretation, noting that drones may technically be flown over and in Ontario Parks so long as they do not land. As stated, however, such an interpretation ignores the broader policy reasons for why drone activity might be restricted in provincial parks, namely to discourage damage and disruption. Very few drones are likely to cause damage or disruption simply by landing; indeed, some (such as the DJI Spark) can even land in the palm of an operator’s hand.
Ontario Parks might counter that the word “aircraft” is now largely understood in the aeronautics community as including unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones. While, granted, Rizzo Shoes Ltd. states that legislation should be given a “fair, large and liberal construction and interpretation as will best ensure the attainment of the object of the Act according to its true intent, meaning and spirit”, the overall object and purpose of the General Provisions is not to regulate aeronautic activity. The word “aircraft” must still be interpreted and applied in its “grammatical and ordinary sense”. Few Ontario Parks users would interpret “aircraft” as including unmanned aerial vehicles and drones.
Still, all of this hardly means that operators can or should start flying their drones in Ontario Parks with impunity. Park superintendents and rangers are likely to issue fines to those whom they catch flying drones in a provincial park, even though their statutory authority to do so is questionable. The Minister owes it to drone operators to clarify the law in this area and to implement regulations allowing for safe drone use in provincial parks that otherwise complies with the Canadian Aviation Regulations.