A Criminal Code change that would officially extend Canadian criminal jurisdiction to the cosmos is buried deep inside the legislation implementing Canada’s government budget for 2022.
“A Canadian crew member who commits an act or omission outside Canada during a space flight that would constitute an indictable offense if committed in Canada is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada,” according to Bill C-19, the 443-page document implementing the provisions of the federal budget for 2022.
Essentially, if a Canadian commits a criminal offense while in space, they will be welcomed with handcuffs when they return.
It also implies that Canadians can currently murder and rob as much as they like, as long as they do so while in orbit.
The technological lawlessness of space has long been recognized as an issue by legal specialists. In 2019, a US astronaut serving on the International Space Station was accused of committing history’s first-ever space crime, bringing the topic to the fore.
Summer Worden, McClain’s estranged spouse, accused her of illegally accessing Worden’s online bank data using an ISS computer, which Worden claimed was a form of identity theft. The charges were later proven to be incorrect, and Worden is now charged with lying to federal investigators in the United States.
Since 1985, the Canadian Space Agency has sent nine Canadians to space on missions. Julie Payette, Canada’s recently resigned governor-general, and Chris Hadfield, whose leadership of the International Space Station in 2013 elevated him to the status of astronaut fame.
The nine astronauts are all highly-trained government professionals who are subjected to a complex web of professional and international regulations designed to keep them in check.
Criminal authority over the International Space Station is governed by the 1998 treaty that established the station, to which Canada is a signatory.
Anyone aboard the station is subject to the criminal jurisdiction of their home nation, according to Article 22 of the treaty. Even yet, there is a murky grey area in the case of an astronaut committing a crime against an astronaut from another country. In that instance, the treaty simply recommends that the two astronauts’ governments talk about their “respective prosecutorial interests.”
However, as space becomes more filled with private space travelers, the legal foundation of space is evolving. Mark Pathy, a Canadian businessman, went aboard Axiom Mission 1 earlier this month, the first private crewed flight to the International Space Station in history.
Pathy would have been charged by Canada if he had committed any crimes while on the International Space Station, according to the 1998 ISS Treaty. However, if the incident had occurred inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that was ferrying Pathy to the station, the stage could have been set for a legal nightmare.
Canada has been involved in a similar legal situation before, albeit this time it included the legally unclear jurisdiction of an iceberg rather than space.
In 1970, a U.S. citizen working aboard a floating ice sheet shot and killed a fellow researcher after a dispute over a stolen bottle of homemade wine. Although both the accused and the victim were U.S. citizens residing in a U.S. institution at the time of the crime, the iceberg occurred to be in Canadian territory.
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