Ottawa banning some lasers near airports to prevent cockpit attacks

The government of Canada is issuing a sweeping ban on the possession of some handheld lasers near airports in an effort to prevent cockpit attacks.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau took the unusual step today of announcing an interim ministerial order that bans the possession outside of a private dwelling of battery-operated, handheld lasers more powerful than one milliwatt anywhere within 10 kilometres of an airport or heliport, and in any municipality within the greater Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver areas.

The order exempts those with legitimate reasons for using a laser pointer outdoors, citing “work, school or educational purposes.”

Any individual caught violating the ban could face a fine of up to $5,000, while corporations could be on the hook for $25,000.

A laser pointed into the cockpit of an aircraft can distract and even momentarily blind a pilot.

“This creates a very disturbing effect inside the plane. It can cause flash blindness,” said Garneau.

Since Garneau initiated a public education campaign on such cockpit attacks two years ago, the number of laser incidents has dropped by 25 per cent.

There were 379 reported incidents of lasers aimed at planes last year, down from 590 in 2015 and 527 in 2016.

“It’s still too many. We want it to be zero,” said Morneau. “The education is working, but it’s not working fast enough.” 

Shining a laser into a plane’s cockpit is already a federal offence under the Aeronautics Act, but the government has said it’s difficult to prosecute.

The new measure gives police the power to question anyone found in one of the prohibited zones with a laser.

“If you’re stopped by law enforcement, you should be prepared to demonstrate why you’re in possession of a hand-held laser over 1 mW,” reads a guideline document from Transport Canada.

“Law enforcement agencies will be trained to know when and where people may possess a laser. They will exercise their discretion and judgment when determining whether or not to issue a fine.”

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