Yellowknife man who flew drone dangerously sentenced

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A Yellowknife man who pleaded guilty to operating an aircraft – a drone – dangerously was sentenced to time served plus a $3,000 fine Thursday.

Toufic Chamas, 23, was convicted on Oct. 12 for the offence – the first time the use of a drone has been criminalized under the Criminal Code in Canada.

In September of last year, RCMP received numerous reports of a drone flying dangerously close to buildings and power lines in the downtown. After Mounties observed Chamas seemingly operating the drone from the porch of his city home, officers warned about him about drone restrictions in the city.

Under the Aeronautics Act Interim Order, drones can’t be flown within 5.6 kilometers from areodromes. In Yellowknife, there are two areodromes: Yellowknife Airport and Yellowknife Bay.

But the sightings didn’t stop there.

Chamas was visited and warned  by Mounties again on Sept. 16. The next day, the drone was seen again, this time flying 500 ft. above the ground near the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

“Smack dab in the middle,” of a flight path that leads aircrafts bound for the Yellowknife Airport, said Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane on Oct. 12. A collision between a drone and an airplane, Fane said, could have disastrous consequences.

“Chamas has endangered the community of Yellowknife repeatedly,” said Judge Bernadette Schmaltz before handing down her sentence Thursday.

“And after being warned … he continued,” added Schmaltz.

The dangerous operation of an aircraft was one of four charges Chamas pleaded guilty to. He also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after he gave both MED and RCMP members a fake name during a traffic stop in October of last year.

In August, Chamas earned a driving while disqualified charge after he was pulled over for speeding – 150 kilometres per hour – near Fort Providence. In the same month, he was charged for breaching a recognizance. Chamas pleaded guilty to the latter two charges, as well.

On Oct. 12, the Crown and the defence, Tracy Bock, submitted a joint sentencing recommendation: A three year aircraft operation ban and a $3,000 fine for the drone conviction; one day in jail for obstructing justice; five days in custody plus a two year driving ban for the driving while disqualified conviction; and one day in jail for the breach conviction.

“Even taking into account (Chamas’) guilty plea as a mitigating factor, I still don’t find any of the sentences are adequate,” said Schmaltz.

But Schmaltz weighed her comments with Supreme Court guidelines, which direct judges not to reject joint submissions “lightly.”

Ultimately, she accepted the joint submission on sentencing.

Going over Chamas’ criminal record, which has previous convictions for dangerous driving and speed racing, Schmaltz said the offender has shown a pattern of offences that “endanger the community,” adding he showed “continued and blatant disregard” for the safety of others.

“One day you’re going to get a rude awakening. If you don’t change your behaviour … you’re going to seriously hurt or kill someone,” said Schmaltz.

With credit for time served, Chamas has already served the imposed five day sentence. Normally, that means an offender walks away a free person, having already served their sentence in remand.

But Chamas will be going back behind bars. He was arrested on Oct. 19 and faces a number of charges in an unrelated matter. He’s now a suspect in a Thanksgiving weekend break-in in the city.

Chamas will be in court to face fresh charges on Oct. 29.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.