Out of this World

About 50 years ago, a landmark event occurred that would alter history. Today, a possible law change may have a gigantic impact on that occurrence.

Of course, I’m talking about the moon landing.

Last month, Canada introduced an amendment to its criminal code to allow for the prosecution of crimes committed by Canadian astronauts “on, or in relation to, a flight element of the Lunar Gateway; on any means of transportation to or from the lunar gateway; or on the surface of the moon.” In other words, astronauts cannot break the law while traveling to the moon, from the moon, and when they’re on the moon itself.

The new measure, which was buried in the 443-page Budget Implementation Act, reads, “A Canadian crew member who, during a space flight, commits an act or omission outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offense is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada.”

Canadian law already addresses crimes committed by astronauts onboard the International Space Station. This new proposal governing offenses committed on the moon just happens to coincide with NASA’s Artemis endeavor.

In December of 2020, NASA signed a treaty with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) confirming Canada’s participation in the Lunar Gateway, which will serve as a multi-purpose outpost orbiting the moon. The Gateway will provide essential support for long-term human return to the moon’s surface and serve as a staging point for deep space exploration. The CSA will be building robotics for the Lunar Gateway, as well as developing artificial intelligence for the station.

The Artemis II mission will be the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972, and a Canadian astronaut will be part of the crew. However, there’s been nothing official correlating the proposed law to the flight.

The concept of “space crimes” came to the forefront in 2019 after NASA investigated what was characterized as the first alleged crime in space. Astronaut Anne McClain, on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station, was accused by her estranged spouse, Summer Worden, of improperly accessing bank records from space. McClain was later cleared, and Worden was charged with making false statements to federal authorities.

With the anticipated exponential growth in space activities, the occurrence of crimes in space is expected. Currently, outer space, like international waters, resembles the wild west with its lawlessness. Currently, there are five international treaties governing activities. The most applicable is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, ratified by more than 100 other countries, including the U.S. and Canada. In essence, the law says that a space criminal
would be subject to the law of his or her country, or the country that owns the spacecraft where the crime was committed.

The International Space Station has its own intergovernmental agreement which states, “Canada, the European Partner States, Japan, Russia, and the United States may exercise criminal jurisdiction over personnel in or on any flight element who are their respective nationals.”

With the possibility of all this increased legal activity in space, our firm has discussed opening a branch on the moon. It would, of course, be our satellite office.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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