Space criminals? Canada will start to prosecute crimes on the Moon

Although they may have to return to Earth for enforcement.
Chris Young

Who will be the first cosmic criminal?

Lawmakers in Canada passed an amendment on April 28 that allows for the prosecution of crimes committed on the Moon, a press release reveals.

181 MPs voted in favor of the new law, which was outlined in a 443-page budget implementation bill, and 144 voted against it.

The new law amendment is the latest legislation for off-world law enforcement, as outer space increasingly becomes a militarized domain.

Canada enforces new space crime law

Canada already has a similar law in place that allows it to prosecute crimes committed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) the same way as it would if they were committed on Earth.

The new law was passed in response to the increasing number of human space flights from American soil in recent years as a result of SpaceX's crewed launches, which started with the Crew Demo-2 launch in May 2020. 

Next, NASA aims to launch astronauts around the Moon in 2024 with its Artemis II lunar flyby mission, and one of the crew is expected to be a Canadian astronaut. NASA's Artemis program, with the collaboration of the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, aims to eventually establish and maintain a human presence on the Moon with its Lunar Gateway project.

The new amendment, under the Lunar Gateway subheading, 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." Astronauts from other nations may also be prosecuted if they "threaten the life or security of a Canadian crew member" on a Canadian-supported space mission.

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To date, no crime has been committed in space. In 2019, a former Air Force intelligence officer called Summer Worden accused her former spouse, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, of committing a space crime by accessing her bank account from a computer aboard the ISS. However, McClain was later cleared of any wrongdoing and Worden was charged with lying to federal investigators. In the U.S., crimes committed in space fall under the country's criminal jurisdiction.

Space is increasingly becoming a militarized domain

More than just civilian law has been expanded to encompass all things space in recent months and years. Russia recently announced it will be leaving the ISS, which has long been deemed a symbol of peace and collaboration and is part of a decades-long global effort to maintain space as an un-militarized domain. 

Tensions have been rising for a long time though. In 2020, the U.S. published its Spacepower military doctrine, described as "the first articulation of spacepower as a separate and distinct form of military power". In typical colonial fashion, the U.S. blames other countries for military escalation in space, and other countries — namely China and Russia — blame the U.S.

In any case, the militarization of space is going ahead, which doesn't breach but completely goes against the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. With recent reports that SpaceX's Starlink internet satellite is allowing up to 150,000 Ukrainians to connect to the internet daily amid the ongoing conflict in the country, the strategic importance of space technology is firmly set in the public eye.