February 16, 2018 8:21 am
Updated: February 16, 2018 8:22 am

Feds exploring ‘all options’ to crack down on people aiming laser pointers at planes

A laser pointed into the cockpit of an aircraft - usually during take off or landing, the two most critical phases of a flight - can distract, disorient or even temporarily blind a pilot.

File/ Global News

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has told his officials to explore “all possible options” to crack down on the dangerous practice of aiming laser pointers at aircraft.

And a federal official says those options include an outright ban on certain types of lasers.

READ MORE: Laser pointed at plane trying to land at Edmonton-area airport

The number of laser incidents has actually dropped by 25 per cent since Garneau initiated an education campaign two years ago.

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

But Garneau says that’s not good enough because just one incident is too many.

WATCH: YVR and Transport Canada team up for laser pointer campaign

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This is not only reckless, it is criminal and it is absolutely essential that we bring those numbers down because one is too many, there’s no question about it,” Garneau said in an interview.

A laser pointed into the cockpit of an aircraft – usually during take off or landing, the two most critical phases of a flight – can distract, disorient or even temporarily blind a pilot.

While Transport Canada says there are no documented cases to date of lasers causing accidents, Garneau said the potential is there for lasers to cause a “catastrophic” crash.

READ MORE: Police issue warning after lasers pointed at planes near Toronto Pearson Airport

“I think that we have dodged many bullets,” he said.

Transport Canada’s “Not-a-Bright-Idea” safety awareness campaign has tried to educate Canadians on the risks and consequences of aiming a laser at a plane, including posting a video of what a pilot sees when a laser is shone into the cockpit and emphasizing the potential penalties – fines of up to $100,000, five years in prison or both – if an individual is caught targeting an aircraft.

But Garneau conceded prosecutions have been “few and far between” because it’s typically difficult to pinpoint the source of lasers.

Over just two days earlier this month, there were six laser incidents involving planes landing at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport. Garneau said it’s not clear whether multiple people were involved or just a single individual was behind the incidents, which he said made him “very, very mad.”

WATCH: Saskatoon police, STARS issue warning about laser pointers

“One of the challenges is to catch the person doing it,” he said, adding that while some people may be unaware of the dangers, he thinks others “know darn well what they’re doing” and are deliberately trying to “provoke something.”

While he’s encouraged by the decline in the number of laser incidents overall and intends to continue the education campaign, Garneau said, “That’s not enough, we need to do more.”

In January, he asked Transport officials to explore “all possible options to bring those numbers down radically.” Garneau declined to specify what those options might be but said he’s hoping to announce further measures “in the coming weeks.”

READ MORE: Global News chopper targeted by green laser pointer during newscast

An official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the options include banning the import of certain types of powerful lasers, mandatory warning labels and stiffer penalties.

Garneau acknowledged that some other countries have banned lasers but refused to speculate on the chances of that happening in Canada.

“When you explore an option you have to look at what it involves and what the consequences are and I think it’s best for me not to discuss specific possibilities at this point,” he said.

“What I can tell you is that we will choose a solution that is more than just simply continuing the education program.”

WATCH: York Regional Police arrest man for pointing laser at police helicopter

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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