Calgary man first to be fined for flying drone in Banff National Park

A Calgary man wearing an easy-to-identify Edmonton Oilers jersey became the first person fined for illegal drone usage in Banff National Park, despite close to 100 reports of unidentified flying drones in 2017 alone.

Danny McEachen didn't know he wasn't supposed to fly his drone inside the park

Danny McEachren, third from left, became the first person fined for flying a drone in Banff National Park. (Danny McEachren)

For Danny McEachren, it was one of those glorious December days skating on Two Jack Lake, perfect for a photo and video — until his passion for the perfect overhead shot resulted in his becoming the first person fined for flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Banff National Park.

"It was one of those days where you have crystal clear ice maybe six inches thick, and you can see right to the bottom of the lake," said McEachren, in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"You catch that maybe once every five or six years," he said. "I wanted to take some footage and capture some memories."

Unfortunately for the Calgary resident — who was dressed in an Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid jersey — one of the very next memories he'd have was a park warden asking what was in his backpack.

Drone owner and amateur photographer Danny McEachren, who was fined $500 for illegally flying his drone in Banff National Park. (Danny McEachren)

Two complaints

Apparently, two skaters had called in complaints to the Parks service that someone was flying a drone in a national park, which is illegal without written permission.

McEachren copped to the warden that he was flying the drone, thinking he'd get off with a warning.

Instead, the warden wrote him up, necessitating a court appearance. 

The fine for illegally flying a drone is up to $25,000.

"I pled guilty," McEachren said. "I mean, I was guilty."

The judge, McEachren said, was a bit fuzzy on legal precedents, but it turned out someone in Jasper had been convicted of using a drone to shoot video of wildlife.

The judge fined McEachren $500. 

Rules available online

While McEachren says he was unaware that he was forbidden from flying his drone, park warden Steve Anderson says the rules are clear, and unambiguous.

"There is no recreational use of drones by visitors or residents," Anderson said in an interview with CBC News.

"The rules are available online," he said. "They're quite easily found, which is probably where a lot of people look for that sort of thing.

"In any new area that you go into," he said, "it's incumbent upon the user of any particular activity or equipment  to understand what limitations — if any — may exist in any new area they may go into."

McEachren took issue with being singled out, saying to CBC News.

"I found it frustrating that big companies can use drones in the National Park like Brewster's, the Fairmont Chateau Hotel, Sulphur Mountain and movies … but they come down on the little tourist guy that wants personal footage with friends. Check the Fairmont Chateau's Instagram from a month ago. There is a drone video."

Approval decided on case-by-case basis

"Anyone wishing to use a UAV must submit a written proposal to the superintendent," Anderson said. "Those are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. And within the proposal, you need to clearly indicate how the intended use of the UAV supports the management of the park."

McEachren may be the first visitor or resident caught, but it turns out he's hardly the first person who thought Banff was a great place to fly a drone, according to Anderson.

"We've had multiple reports of drone use in the park," Anderson said. "In 2017, we had 87 different files [reports of people] using UAV's.

"We do see it fairly frequently," he added, "And the public are certainly encouraged to report all UAV use they see to Banff Park dispatch — (403) 762-1470 is the number. That's how this file came to us. The description of the UAV pilot or user and any vehicle associated with it are helpful."

In other words, don't come around southern Alberta illegally flying a drone wearing a Connor McDavid jersey, because you will be caught.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

Sarah Lawrynuik CBC News

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