Canada: Municipal Bylaws Impacting Drone Operations – Are They Legal?

Last Updated: September 19 2019
Article by Kathryn McCulloch


Canadians are taking drones to the skies in increasing numbers. In 2017, there were an estimated 337,468 drones in Canada, 74 percent of which were recreational, and 26 percent of which were used for non-recreational purposes1. Globally, the market for commercial drones is staggering – it is expected to reach US$17 billion by 2024.2

The influx of drones in Canada's skies are creating a new and growing concern for lawmakers. As cities and towns are grappling with the safety (and other) concerns presented by drone use in their borders, more and more municipalities are enacting bylaws that affect drone operations. In many cases, municipal bylaws place additional requirements on drone operators beyond what Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (the CARs) require.

Do municipalities have the legal authority and jurisdiction to enact bylaws impacting drone operations? The answer depends on the specific nature and wording of the bylaw, and whether the provisions improperly encroach on the Canadian federal government's exclusive authority to regulate aeronautics granted by the Constitution Act, 1867.3

In order to mitigate legal risks when conducting flights, drone operators need to analyze and abide by all applicable municipal bylaws before flight. Unless a court determines that a municipal bylaw impacting drone operations is invalid, drone operators must comply with the bylaw at all times. Municipalities ought to ensure that their bylaws are clearly drafted, and that they do not overreach by regulating drone operations in ways inconsistent with the CARs.

Legal background

Constitutional division of powers

In Canada, the federal government (Federal Government), and the provincial and territorial governments (Provincial Governments) have the power to make laws. Section 91 of the Constitution outlines the powers of the Federal Government, which include aviation, trade and commerce, military, public debt, navigation and shipping, bankruptcy, and insolvency.4 The authority and jurisdiction to make laws and regulations relating to drones and other aviation activities falls under the Federal Government's exclusive jurisdiction. In addition to the specific powers set out in section 91, the Federal Government has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government (POGG) of Canada.5

Sections 92, 92A and 93 outline the powers of the Provincial Governments. These powers include local works and undertakings (with limited exceptions set out in Section 92(10)), property and civil rights, and generally all matters of a merely local or private nature in the province.6

Powers of municipalities

Municipalities have the power to pass bylaws to allow them to provide any service that the municipality considers necessary or desirable for the public, but are limited by the powers delegated to them by the province in which they are situated. 7

Bylaws can cover issues such as governance structure, accountability and transparency, financial management, public assets, economic social and environmental well-being of the municipality, including climate change, health and safety, authorized services, protection of persons and property, animals, structures, and business licensing. Further, the courts shall "broadly" interpret municipal powers to enable them to govern their affairs and respond to municipal issues.8

To date, the most common municipal bylaws enacted apply to drone operations within public parks (though a greater number of municipalities are enacting bylaws that preclude operations over streets and other areas). For example, the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001 delegates power from the Provincial Governments to municipalities to make laws relating to public parks, and create offences arising from the violations of those laws.9

Examples of municipal bylaws currently in force

Many municipalities have already implemented bylaws impacting drone operations to address safety and other concerns. However, a major issue faced by drone operators is knowing whether a given bylaw applies to drone operations. Even though a drone is considered to be an "aircraft" in the CARs, the same term in other legislation (i.e. references to aircraft in municipal bylaws) cannot automatically be ascribed the same meaning. This ambiguity creates another layer of complexity and uncertainty for law-abiding drone operators.

Some examples of municipal bylaws currently in force that may affect drone operations include:

  • Calgary, Alberta: Bylaws prohibiting the launch or operation in a park of "any remote control device including ... planes" and prohibiting the operations of "model airplanes of any nature" from using a street for the "purposes of flying";
  • Toronto, Ontario: Bylaw prohibiting the operation of 'powered models of aircraft, rockets, watercraft, or vehicles', unless authorized by permit;
  • Canmore, Alberta: Bylaw prohibiting the operation of drones in public parks, unless authorized by the chief administrative officer;
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Bylaw prohibiting the use of any "model aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles" in any park or recreation facilities, except as permitted by the City;
  • Mississauga, Ontario: Bylaw prohibiting the operation in a park of "any remote-controlled or other powered devices, including but not limited to, model versions of aircraft, rockets, watercraft and vehicles, other than in a designated area, unless authorized by permit";
  • Hamilton, Ontario: Bylaw prohibiting the operation in a park of "any powered models of aircraft, rockets, watercraft or any ground vehicle, unless authorized by permit";
  • Richmond, British Columbia: Bylaw prohibiting flying radio-controlled, fixed-line-controlled or power-launched model aircraft or gliders in public parks or school grounds; and
  • Morden, Manitoba: Bylaw limiting "powered model aircraft and vehicle" usage within the city limits, unless used for advertising, marketing or film production with the approval of the City Managers.

Challenging the legality of municipal bylaws

Municipal bylaws, including those impacting drone operations, are presumptively valid and enforceable and must be complied with when applicable. However, municipal bylaws can be challenged where it appears that the municipality has overstepped the law-making authority the province has granted to it. Only when a bylaw (or provisions within a bylaw) are declared unenforceable by a court are citizens relieved from a bylaw's requirements.

Analysis conducted by courts in bylaw challenges

If challenged in a court proceeding, a court may determine that a municipal bylaw is either intra vires (within) the municipality's law-making authority, or ultra vires (outside) the municipality's law-making authority. Generally, a bylaw is ultra vires when the bylaw limits the ability of the federal power or goes to the core of the federal authority. Below is a general summary of the analysis that a court would likely undertake.

If a municipal bylaw falls under one of the provincial heads of power, then the bylaw is considered to be intra vires and will continue to remain law. However, if the municipal bylaw engages, to any extent, a power under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, the court will consider and apply specific legal doctrines to determine whether the bylaw ought to remain law, including: i) federal paramountcy, ii) interjurisdictional immunity, and iii) ancillary powers.10

Federal paramountcy

When applying the doctrine of federal paramountcy, the court will be guided by the principle set out in the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Rothmans: "Where there is an inconsistency between validly enacted but overlapping provincial and federal legislation, the provincial legislation is inoperative to the extent of the inconsistency."11

When reviewing the impugned municipal bylaw, the court will consider three things:

  • Whether both laws can be complied with at the same time;
  • Whether the municipal bylaw frustrates the purpose of overlapping federal laws; and
  • Where either (a) or (b) exists, the federal law will govern, and the municipal bylaw will be deemed ultra vires12.
  • Interjurisdictional immunity

If federal paramountcy does not apply, the court will determine whether interjurisdictional immunity applies to the heads of power. The court will determine this by analyzing whether the bylaw goes to the "core" of the engaged federal power. If it does, the bylaw will be deemed ultra vires.13

Ancillary powers

If only a part of the bylaw goes to the core of the federal power, the court will consider a third principle, ancillary powers, to determine whether part of the bylaw can be "saved" and remain law. In considering this principle, the court may consider multiple factors, including:

  • The extent to which the provision intrudes on federal powers;
  • Whether it was validly enacted; and
  • Whether the provision is integrated or functionally related to the bylaw as a whole.

The specific provision is removed if the court determines that the provision is intrusive on the federal power, and is not integrated or functionally related to the bylaw as a whole. If the specific provision cannot be removed, then the entire bylaw will be ultra vires.14

Notable municipal bylaw challenges

To date, there have been no reported court challenges to municipal bylaws relating to drones in Canada. Indeed, case law of any kind concerning the use of drones in Canada is sparse.

However, in the conventional aviation context, courts have considered challenges against bylaws that were alleged to improperly touch upon federal aviation law-making powers. An analysis of these cases provides some guidance about what can be expected from the courts when bylaws impacting drone operations are challenged.

In R. v. De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd., the City of North York implemented a bylaw in order to limit the noise disturbance of an aircraft test company. However, complying with the bylaw would have put the company in violation of its obligations under the Federal Aeronautics Act. Therefore, the federal law prevailed and the bylaw was inoperative for that company15.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada examined jurisdiction over aeronautics tin Québec (Attorney General) v. Lacombe, wherea municipal zoning bylaw prohibited aerodromes within a quiet vacation area. The SCC held that the bylaw was ultra vires because it was not a zoning bylaw in practice but rather had the effect of prohibiting aerodromes. The court found the bylaw to be invalid because the purpose and effect of the bylaw touched more on regulating aeronautics than it did on land use planning.16

The decision of Burlington Airpark Inc. v. Burlington (City) allowed a bylaw to prevail. In that case, an airport was being expanded near the Niagara Escarpment. The City had a bylaw regarding fill operations and ordered the airport construction to comply with the bylaw. The airport argued that their operations fell within federal jurisdiction. However, the court ruled that the bylaw was valid and binding upon the owner regarding landfill activities at the airport. The bylaw fell within provincial jurisdiction and did not infringe on the operations of the airport.17

Most recently, the decision in Oshawa (City) v. 536813 Ontario Limited applied the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity. Although the defendant did not obtain a building permit before constructing modifications to its aircraft hangar, the court ruled that the Ontario Building Code Act, 1992 unacceptably interfered with and impacted the core federal competency as it applied to the hangar. Therefore, the charge against the defendant under the Ontario Building Code Act, 1992 was found ultra vires the city of Oshawa.18

Key takeaways for municipalities and drone operators

Municipal bylaws that purport to impact drone operations may face challenges if they encroach on the Federal Government's aeronautics power, rather than focusing on the effect of drone use on well-being in public places. Municipalities should ensure that any proposed or enacted bylaws to control drone use within the municipality does not encroach on the Federal Government's aviation jurisdiction, and only touch on municipal land and the well-being of its constituents. Further, bylaws that clearly define that drones are included in a list of prohibited aerial vehicles will greatly assist operators in complying with the provisions, and reduce the municipality's potential exposure to a court challenge.

For drone operators, determining the applicable municipal bylaws, and ensuring compliance with them needs to become a routine step when planning operations. As the applicable regulatory and bylaw framework becomes more complex, obtaining the necessary permits and planning for compliant operational parameters where municipal bylaws apply will become (yet another) cost of doing business.

A special thanks to Susan Fridlyand (articling student) and Matthew Maich (summer student) for their assistance in the preparation of this Insight.


1 Jen Chong & Nicole Sweeney, "Civilian Drone Use in Canada" (2017) Library of Parliament Background Paper No 2017-23-E.

2 Global Market Insights, "Commercial Drone Market to hit $17bn by 2024" (28 February 2018). Global Market Insights Inc., online:

3 Constitution Act, 1867 (UK), 30 & 31 Vict, c 3, s 91, reprinted in RSC 1985, Appendix II, No 5 ["Constitution Act"].

4 Constitution Act; as it pertains to aviation, the Aeronautics Act, RSC 1985, c. A 2 and the underlying regulations.

5 Constitution Act.

6 Constitution Act.

7 George Rust D'Eye, Ophir Bar-Moshe & Andrew James, Ontario Municipal Law: A User's Manual -2018 (Canada: Thomson Reuters, 2017) at CKL-3 and 8; Constitution Act, s. 92(8).

8 Rust at CKL-3.

9 Municipal Act, 2001, SO 2001, c 25, at s. 11(3)(5) and s. 425(1).

10 Peter W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada 5th ed. (Canada: Thomson Reuters, 2016) at 5.3(e).

11 Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. v. Saskatchewan, 2005 SCC 13 at para. 11.

12 Hogg at 16.

13 Hogg at 15.8.

14 Hogg at 16.9(c).

15 R v. De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd., 1981 CanLII 2873 (ON CJ).

16 Québec (Attorney General) v. Lacombe, 2010 2 SCR 453, 2010 SCC 38 (CanLII).

17 Burlington Airpark Inc. v. Burlington (City), 2014 ONCA 468 (CanLII).

18 Oshawa (City) v. 536813 Ontario Ltd., 2016 ONCJ 287.

About Dentons

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. Specific Questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions