Canada can now prosecute crimes committed on the Moon

Canada can now prosecute crimes committed on the Moon

In this decade and the next, astronauts will go into space like never before. This will include missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the first time in more than fifty years, renewed missions to the Moon, and manned missions to Mars. Beyond that, new space stations will be deployed to replace the aging International Space Station (ISS), and there are even plans to establish permanent human outposts on the lunar and Martian surfaces.

In anticipation of humanity’s growing presence in space and all that it will entail, jurists and authorities around the world are seeking to extend Earth’s laws into space. In a recent decision, the Canadian government introduced legislation that extends Canada’s penal code to the Moon. The amendment was part of the Budget Implementation Act (a 443-page document) introduced and passed late last month in the Canadian House of Commons.

The Criminal Code of Canada already accounts for astronauts who can commit crimes during space flights to LEO and stays on board the ISS. By law, any crime committed is considered to have been committed on Canadian soil. But with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as part of the Lunar Gateway project, the federal government decided to amend the Penal Code to extend these laws to cis-lunar space and the lunar surface.

An Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Gateway in orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA

moon law

The amendment was included in Part 5, Division 18 of the document, entitled “Civil Lunar Portal Agreement Implementation Law.” This section constitutes a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the governments of Canada and the US regarding cooperation on the Lunar Gateway. According to the current Penal Code, the law establishes that:

“[A] A Canadian crew member who, during a space flight, commits an act or omission outside of Canada which, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offense is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada if that act or omission is committed (a) on, or in connection with, a Space Station flight element; or (b) in any means of transportation to or from the Space Station.”

A similar provision is made for “partner state” crew members, referring to NASA, ESA, JAXA, Roscosmos (formerly) and any other national space agency participating in the ISS. According to the new amendment, the law now applies to any act or omission committed at the Lunar Gateway, while being transported to or from the Lunar Gateway, or on the surface of the Moon. In short, if you commit a crime anywhere between the Earth and the Moon, you will be charged under Canadian law!

space law

There are currently five international treaties governing activities in space, all overseen by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). Chief among them is the Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967 by the US, the Soviet Union, and the UK, and has since been ratified by more than 100 countries (including Canada). This treaty remains the most relevant legal agreement regarding sovereignty issues and the treatment of alleged crimes in space.

The International Space Station in orbit around the Earth. Credit: NASA

In addition, the 15 governments that are part of the ISS program must comply with the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), an intergovernmental legal framework drafted between 1994 and 1998. The section dealing with criminal jurisdiction (article 22) states that “Canada, the European Partner States, Japan, Russia and the United States may exercise criminal jurisdiction over personnel in any flight element who are their respective nationals.”

However, if the victim of a crime was a citizen of a different partner nation or within that nation’s ISS section, their criminal code could apply. As the document says, in these cases:

“In a case of misconduct [in] orbit that: (a) affects the life or safety of a national of another Partner State or (b) occurs in or on the flight element of another Partner State or causes damage to the flight element of another Partner State, the Partner State whose national is the alleged perpetrator shall, at the request of any affected Partner State, consult with said State regarding their respective procedural interests.”

The topic of space law came up in 2019 when NASA conducted the first criminal investigation of a crime committed in space. The alleged crime involved astronaut Anne McClain, who was accused by her estranged spouse of accessing her bank records during her six-month stay aboard the ISS. The investigation cleared McClain of any wrongdoing and her ex-wife (Summer Worden) was charged with making false statements to federal authorities.

The case raised awareness of issues that could arise in the near future and how the current state of space law was not prepared to address them. In addition, there has been growing concern regarding legal settlements and liability stemming from disputes over satellite mega-constellations, asteroid mining, and the commercialization of space. According to Ram Jakhu, a professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, these crimes could extend to:

“[M]assassinations in space, the hijacking of a space shuttle and the detonation of a nuclear device in space. It would be logical and imperative that such rules be the same for all humans traveling in space, regardless of the fact that they have different terrestrial nationalities. .”

Canada and Artemis

As part of the Artemis Program, the Lunar Gateway is vital to conducting regular missions to the lunar surface and establishing Base Camp Artemis. It’s also a key component of NASA’s plan to send manned missions to Mars in the next decade. The core elements of this modular space station, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitability and Logic Outpost (HALO), are scheduled to be launched into lunar orbit in 2024.

This amendment is in line with the treaty signed by the CSA and NASA in December 2020 that confirmed Canada’s participation in the Lunar Gateway. This treaty also confirmed that Canada will be part of the Artemis 2 mission (scheduled for May 2024), in which a four-person crew will make a circumlunar flight before returning to Earth. The presence of a Canadian astronaut on board this flight will make Canada the second nation in the world to send an astronaut to the Moon.

Artemis II will take this flight path. Let’s hope no lunar crimes occur along the way. Credit: NASA

Additionally, the Canadian government reaffirmed its financial commitment to Lunar Gateway with the passage of the Budget Implementation Act. Among the many provisions, the budget recognizes the commitment of $1.9 billion (announced in the 2019 budget) over 24 years to build and integrate Canadarm 3 as part of the Lunar Gateway. Its predecessors (Canadarm and Canadarm 2) appeared on the Space Shuttle and the ISS (respectively). Both proved invaluable in the construction and maintenance of the ISS and the docking and undocking of spacecraft.

This latest robotic arm consists of an 8.5-meter (~28-foot) main arm, a smaller, more dextrous arm, and a set of detachable tools. It is also highly autonomous and incorporates state-of-the-art robotics and software to perform tasks that will aid science operations on and around the Moon without human intervention. In particular, it will be responsible for docking spacecraft from Earth and transferring vehicles to the Deep Space Transport (DST), which will one day be used to transport astronauts to Mars.

With all of these activities on the horizon, it’s no wonder why governments and space agencies are eager to establish binding legal frameworks that apply far beyond the jurisdictions of Earth.

This article was originally published on universe today by Matt Williams. Read the original article here.

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