It’s now illegal to possess most laser pointers (outside of houses) within six miles of any Canadian airport thanks to an order made by Canada’s transport minister on Friday. Marc Garneau issued an interim order banning anyone from having a laser pointer with more than one milliwatt of output power while outdoors in a six-mile radius of any airport as part of the government’s effort to curb laser attacks on aircraft. It also bans possession in public areas of the major metropolitan areas of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Anyone caught with a “portable laser device” while outdoors in those areas can be fined up to $5,000 on the spot by a police officer. Most cheap laser pointers available in novelty and convenience stores exceed the power threshold and online laser stores offer units with up to 30,000 times that power for a little more than $100.
Canada took aim at laser attacks two years ago, first launching an “education campaign” to deter irresponsible laser use. The number of reported laser attacks has dropped 25 percent from 527 to 379 in the last two years but that’s not good enough for Garneau, a retired astronaut. “It’s still too many. We want it to be zero,” said Garneau. “The education is working, but it’s not working fast enough.”Garneau’s order is unusual in that it uses a special ministerial power reserved for exceptional circumstances. It will have the effect of law while the Canadian government goes through the months- or years-long process of actually enacting legislation. There are some exemptions allowed. For example, astronomers and astronomy club members use green lasers to point to celestial objects and they will be allowed to continue.