Independent Review of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act

114 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019

See all articles by Ram S. Jakhu

Ram S. Jakhu

McGill University - Institute of Air and Space Law

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Date Written: February 17, 2017


The Remote Sensing Space Systems Act and its Regulations came into force on 5 April 2007. Pursuant to s 45.1 of the Act, Global Affairs Canada tasked the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University’s Faculty of Law with conducting an independent review of the Act “in order to assess, in particular, [the Act’s] impact on technological development and on the implementation of international agreements and treaties”. This independent review constitutes the second five-year phase of the Act’s existence (from 2012-2017) and considers the provisions, operation and implementation of the Act.

The significant findings of the review are as follows:
• Although the objective of the Act is to balance the public interests of Canada with the private
interests of commercial remote sensing operators, the Act leans more in favour of protecting
Canadian national security interests at the expense of technological development and commercial

• The Act does a commendable job of upholding Canada’s international obligations and allowing
Canada to respond to changing international situations.

• The Act has had some difficulty keeping up with the pace of technological change over the past
decade and will continue having difficulty in the future; thus far, the flexibility of the Act has allowed
for continued regulation but may soon extend past its functional limits.

• While the Act succeeds, for the most part, in appropriately regulating Canadian remote sensing
activities, many of the key definitions remain unclear; consequently, the Act is being used to regulate activities that are not, strictly speaking, remote sensing.

• The GAC office in charge of implementing the Act is underfunded and under-staffed; additional
resources are required to maintain the proper implementation of the Act, especially as remote
sensing space system applications increase.

• Aside from sophisticated entities, there is little awareness of the Act or its application; there should be more accessible information on the topic of remote sensing activities in Canada.

• There is little international harmonization on the topic of remote sensing activities; to best serve
public and private interests, the Act should be harmonized with foreign and international rules and

• There is no cost associated with applying for a licence under the Act; a licensing fee, on a cost recovery basis, should be implemented to establish a standard level of service and help offset some of the licensing office’s costs.

The findings in this review stem from a belief that although the Act was appropriate and useful at the time of its enactment in 2005, the players, activities, technology and internationalization of remote sensing activities have since changed significantly and outgrown the confines of the Act. What is needed is a reinvigorated licensing office, tasked with efficiently dealing with remote sensing space systems, as well as a general Outer Space Act to regulate space activities that are not, strictly speaking, remote sensing but currently regulated as such.

Keywords: Remote Sensing, Canadian Space Law

Suggested Citation

Jakhu, Ram S., Independent Review of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (February 17, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Ram S. Jakhu (Contact Author)

McGill University - Institute of Air and Space Law ( email )

3690, Peel Street,
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1W9

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