A drone pilot instructor says recent “brazen” drone videos posted online of the parade and rally celebrating the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship are a “slap in the face” to professional operators and Transport Canada, which recently released new rules governing unmanned flight operations.
“People still drink and drive, which is unfortunate, and people are still going to do illegal flights here and there, but I believe that this was pretty brazen,” Darren Clarke, chief pilot at Clarion Drone Academy, based in Kitchener, Ont., said about the June 17 downtown parade and subsequent rally at city hall.
“I think this was not only a slap in the face to the professional Canadian operators, but certainly our aviation agency, Transport Canada,” Clarke said.
“It was quite brazen, so that kind of fuelled the fire a little bit for us.”
Several videos of the partying were shot from the sky following the Raptors’ NBA Finals win, and posted to the Instagram account @guutoby.
Transport Canada response ‘not up to snuff,’ pilot says
The videos appear to show international social media personality Toby Gu mugging for the camera and deploying a DJI Mavic Pro drone.
CBC Toronto emailed Gu, who calls himself a “digital nomad” on his Instagram account, but has not received a response.
The Mavic Pro is not approved to fly over crowds in Canada, according to Clarke and other drone pilots who spoke to CBC. But in the video, Gu talks about releasing it over the crowd in Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall.
Clarke said a drone accident could cause injuries in a crowd, and drones can be weaponized to cause extensive damage. He said Transport Canada’s response to this situation “was really not up to snuff.
“I don’t want to put the panic onto everybody but we’ve got to look outside the box here,” said Clarke, noting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance that day.
“We see this [drone footage] and we kind of get let down a little bit, and then you see the response from Transport Canada and it just lets you down even more, and then you start thinking, ‘What do we have the rules for.'”
Special permission needed for airspace during Raps’ party
The airspace around Nathan Phillips Square was restricted the day of the Raptors’ party, so anyone operating a drone would have needed permission from Nav Canada, the company that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation service, and would have needed to apply for a special flight operations certificate from Transport Canada.
Nav Canada confirmed it did not receive a request from @guutoby to fly on the day of the parade in the restricted area.
Under the new regulations, a violation of “flying where you are not allowed” is punishable for an individual with a fine up to $1,000.
Transport Canada said “a preliminary review was conducted which determined there was not enough evidence to move forward with the investigation,” referring to the videos posted by @guutoby. However, the agency said it required more time to provide a more fulsome response.
The morning of the Raptors championship event, Transport Canada tweeted for people to leave their drones at home.
Police accept apology from drone operator
The Toronto Police Service said it is not investigating the matter.
“An officer did however speak with a male flying a drone over the crowd on Bay Street. With some education on the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARS), the male apologized,” a police spokesperson wrote to CBC Toronto in a statement.
After the videos were published online, Canada’s largest organization representing the drone industry, Unmanned Systems Canada (USC), released a statement that it had “concerns” over the way drones were shown to have been used during the parade and the party at Nathan Phillips Square.
USC applauded the “unique perspective” of drone captured videos, but questioned whether it was “safely and legally” captured.
Since new drone regulations came into effect in Canada on June 1, USC said, it hoped commercial and recreational operators in Canada would use these videos as a “teachable moment” for how to avoid unsafe or illegal flights.