An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

The enactment amends the Criminal Code by expanding the list of permitted sports under the prize fighting provisions.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • June 5, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • Nov. 28, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2013 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill S-209, which originated in the Senate, as its number indicates.

This bill is relatively simple. Its purpose is to amend the definition of “prize fight” and expand the list of exceptions to better reflect today's reality. First, prize fights are considered an offence under section 83 of the Criminal Code. Prize fight is defined as follows:

...an encounter or fight with fists, hands or feet between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them...

However, there are exceptions. The definition excludes boxing matches between amateur athletes who follow certain rules, namely, those set out by the province in question. The bill goes further in defining a prize fight by adding the use of feet to the definition. It therefore no longer just includes fights in which the combatants use their fists or hands. It also includes fights in which combatants use their feet. The bill also adds a number of items to the list of exceptions, including martial arts.

The bill sets out four new exceptions. Here is the first:

(a) a contest between amateur athletes in a combative sport with fists, hands or feet held in a province if the sport is on the programme of the International Olympic Committee or the International Paralympic Committee...

For example, this would apply to me. I participate in fencing, which is one of the exceptions. Paragraphs (b) and (c) exclude contests between amateur athletes in a combative sport with fists, hands or feet held in a province if the sport has been designated or authorized by the province.

Of course, not all combative sports, most of which originated in Asia, are part of the Olympic or Paralympic program. Yet, they are still practised in a number of countries.

I will continue reading:

(d) a boxing contest or mixed martial arts contest held in a province with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board, commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the province’s legislature...

Therefore, combative sports on the program of the International Olympic Committee as well as other amateur sports designated by a province or a body appointed by a province will be exempted. These include judo, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, fencing, tae kwon do, karate, kick-boxing, mixed boxing and mixed martial arts.

The legislative provision is being amended to better reflect what is happening today in the world of combative sports. Prize fights will continue to be illegal. However, the list of exceptions is being expanded, given that this particular provision was last amended in 1934. There is no question that combative sports have evolved considerably since 1934. For instance, prior to 1934, there were no combative sports involving fighting between women. Today, boxing matches feature women.

Furthermore, prior to 1934, while fencing was an Olympic discipline, women were only authorized to use a fencing foil, as it was considered a practice weapon. Today women also fence with a sabre and an épée, although these changes are relatively recent. Clearly, the situation was very different in 1934 from what it is today in 2013.

Also back in 1934, combative sports were limited, at least in Canada, to boxing and wrestling. Over the years, many combative sports have evolved. Judo, karate and tae kwon do have been around in Canada for many years now. Mixed martial arts have also grown in popularity in recent years.

Some MPs even practised martial arts before embarking on their present career. A number of members on both sides of the House have been involved in non-traditional sports.

The member for Yukon and my NDP colleague seated near me are just two of the many members involved in combative sports.

This bill provides exemptions from criminal prosecution for these legitimate sports practised by thousands of Canadians across the country. As I nurse, I think of course about the safety of these sports and the safety of participants. By expanding the list of permitted sports under the prize fighting provisions, we want to ensure that certain safeguards are in place so that the health of practitioners of these sports is protected. This must be one of our priorities.

I will admit that many Canadians are concerned about mixed martial arts. However, aside from the fact that they are widely practised in any case, it is worth noting that they pose far fewer risks for practitioners than other popular sports such as hockey and boxing. In fact, many other entirely legitimate sports result in far more serious injuries than do mixed martial arts and other combative sports.

One of the priorities of combative sport trainers is to ensure that practitioners know how to defend and protect themselves to avoid injury. This is not necessarily taught in non-combative sports because theoretically injuries are not supposed to occur, even though they sometimes do.

Studies have shown that serious head injuries occur less often in mixed martial arts than they do in hockey, for instance. Hockey Canada, which targets youth in particular, recently took steps to reduce the number of head injuries. Specifically, it banned checking at the bantam level. These associations are also slowly working to reduce the number of head injuries. They are mindful of the extent of the problem. I just wanted to point that out.

In addition, the regulations governing these sports have evolved a great deal with a view to better protecting practitioners. These sports, which are governed by associations and agencies, operate within a legal framework. Providing a legal framework at the federal level for these sports to allow them to exist will also make it possible for the provinces to enforce their own regulations, to set rules for these sports and to protect the health and safety of practitioners.

It is important to regulate these sports, not to ban them. To ban them would only lead to more clandestine fights. These types of fights pose the greatest risk to the health and safety of participants. Organizers do not necessarily respect the ground rules, such as the need for a medical team to be on hand to intervene if necessary, the requirement to wear gloves and the ban on hits to the head. The more these combative sports are regulated, the lower the risk of injury to participants.

Therefore, recognizing the popularity of these sports and legalizing and better regulating them benefits everyone. This bill will ensure that provincial governments no longer turn a blind eye to organized martial arts contests. It is important to amend the Criminal Code to eliminate any ambiguity over the legality of these different combative sports, which are growing in popularity in Canada.

May I remind members that this legislation was last amended in 1934. The purpose of this initiative is to update the legal framework governing prize fighting and adapt it to what is happening today in 2013.

That is why I support this bill.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2013 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to a rather pleasant subject. It is not as hard or unsettling as many of the other things we talk about. We can actually enjoy talking about it. It does a lot of good.

Today we are talking about Senate Bill S-209, introduced by Senator Bob Runciman, who was appointed to the Senate as a Conservative on January 29, 2010.

I would say to the members opposite that it is very good of us to consider supporting a bill introduced by a Conservative senator, especially these days.

I find supporting a bill from a Conservative senator a bit hard to swallow, but there is something that makes it a bit easier. It was something the senator said recently. In iPolitics, Mr. Runciman said just two days ago that referring former Senator Duffy's expense claims to the RCMP was the right thing to do. Not bad for a Conservative appointee to the upper chamber. This makes supporting his bill a bit easier to swallow.

We are talking about Bill S-209. The bill summary indicates that the enactment amends the Criminal Code by expanding the list of permitted sports under the prize fighting provisions.

Let us take two minutes to look at the current wording of subsection 83.(1) of the Criminal Code on prize fights, in order to understand what it was and why it is being amended:

83. (1) Every one who

(a) engages as a principal in a prize fight,

(b) advises, encourages or promotes a prize fight, or

(c) is present at a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Not only is prize fighting prohibited, but anyone who encourages it or provides help to a prize fighter is committing a criminal offence, as things stand now.

The second subsection provides the definition of prize fight:

83.(2) In this section, “prize fight” means an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them, but a boxing contest between amateur sportsmen, where the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and forty grams each in mass, or any boxing contest held with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board or commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the legislature of a province for the control of sport within the province, shall be deemed not to be a prize fight.

The definition was really rather broad.

Clearly, this bill marks a significant departure from what we had before, that is, prize fights with absolutely no regulations governing them. When I was a kid, this is what we called street fights. Two people agreed to meet at a certain location with witnesses who quite often made bets. The two people would fight with their bare hands. That is prohibited. However, by definition, a boxing match with boxing gloves of a certain weight is allowed, whether it is an amateur or professional fight.

Boxing was once very important to me, but as we know, times change. My grandfather was a trainer at one of the major boxing gyms in Montreal. One of my childhood heroes was Gaétan Hart, who was a Canadian champion. He fought three world championship fights. He was tireless. In an NFB documentary about him, he said the most fascinating thing. He said he would climb into the ring saying, “you will not get my steak.” You would have to have experienced some tough times or come from a poor family, or at least have had a rough couple of weeks, months or years in your life, to understand Gaétan Hart's state of mind as he entered the ring saying that.

He was an inspiration to me. My sons' inspiration is Georges St-Pierre, who is a mixed martial artist. This shows how times and customs change, and it illustrates how combative sports have evolved.

Bill S-209 will allow us to reflect the current reality of combat sports, especially mixed martial arts, by including fights in which combatants use their feet as well as their fists and hands. This will also bring legislation up to date with what is really happening today, that is the organization of fights where boxing gloves are not used, but that are very well supervised. They are no longer street fights.

The NDP will support these changes. I will share our most important arguments with the House, and comment on them.

Mixed martial arts are already legal in Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Russia, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, the United States, Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom and other countries; this is not a complete list. Many modern legislatures have already made changes to reflect this reality.

Athletes who practice this sport are subject to regular medical assessments, just like boxers. Modern medical practices now apply to this sport. The difference is that street fights were not supervised previously.

The incidence of head injuries is lower than in boxing, and is comparable to other contact sports, such as hockey. I believe that this is the most solid and clear argument.

There are fewer knockouts in mixed martial arts contests than in boxing matches or hockey games. In a number of sports, concussions were not considered to have long-term effects. In the past few years, we have learned how harmful they can be in the medium to long term. Previously, young men were told to pick themselves up and get back on the rink or in the ring.

Even the rules for amateur boxing are being questioned as a direct result of the situation we are discussing. Some people believed that young people were better protected because boxing helmets and gloves were heavier. However, over time, we have come to realize that the weight of the helmet increases the harm caused by a blow to the head. That is surprising.

When people engage in a sport without protection—such as a helmet or gloves—and when there are clear regulations and doctors and coaches are present, the result is surprising. It is sometimes hard to watch, because you can see blood coming out of someone's nose. It is startling to see. However, these people receive fewer injuries and concussions than people who play sports such as hockey or boxing, two more popular sports. Those are some of the NDP's main arguments.

Another point that will surely please my colleagues opposite—I think this will get some applause—is that Canada is a growing market and this generates significant economic spinoffs for the country. This is yet another example of how the NDP supports economic and market development.

I will wait for the applause. I guess I will have to wait for another day. I do not think a single member opposite is listening to my speech in French, since they do not have their earpieces in to listen to the translation. They do not care about my speech at all.

Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia all have legislation that legalizes mixed martial arts at the provincial level. It is important to note that the provinces are responsible for regulating these sports. They are already updating their regulations to allow for mixed martial arts.

In Quebec, the Fédération québécoise de boxe mixte ou d'arts martiaux mixte amateur has sanctioned more than 324 competitions. More than 3,405 mixed martial arts fights have taken place without any serious injury or accident. We are talking about more than 3,000 fights under the regulatory regime of Quebec alone. Not a single serious accident has occurred. If we looked at the same number of boxing matches, the results would be far different and much more worrisome.

The NDP believes that we need a clear, updated federal legal framework for mixed martial arts so that the provinces can enforce their own regulations for the sport and ensure that participants are safe and secure.

That is the NDP's position.

Dr. Teresa DeFreitas, a sports medicine consultant, says that banning a sport is not the way to go, and she thinks that if we are well represented with safety regulations and with medical presence we can—

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2013 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to offer a few remarks on Bill S-209, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

It is certainly an item that requires some attention, as the rules governing prize fights have not been updated since 1934. In that time, much has changed with respect to fighting sports, and the current legislation really does not reflect what is happening in Canada today.

Under the Criminal Code as it stands, boxing is the only combative sport allowed, and even that is limited to certain circumstances. There is no way parliamentarians almost 80 years ago could have foreseen the popularity of fighting sports, or the many new forms that have evolved from more traditional disciplines, so there are a number of compelling reasons to update the Criminal Code to reflect the modern reality of sports and how that relates to prize fights.

In fact, if we were not engaged in this process, we would admit to turning a blind eye to what these contests really are. This would mean that the Criminal Code would have a widely acknowledged gap between the law and enforcement, which would raise questions about which other sections of the Code were open to a similar interpretation.

It is far better to address the problem rather than to allow an acknowledged gap in law and enforcement to undermine the legitimacy of other laws. It is a headache we can avoid and are in the process of doing.

Also, we should consider the implications from the perspective of the people who organize and/or participate in sports such as mixed martial arts, commonly referred to as MMA. Updating the Criminal Code will do away with the degree of uncertainty they work within as well, so there is no doubt that it is time for this House to address these items. Fortunately, the bill strikes the right balance, which allows provinces and municipalities or designated regulatory bodies, such as an athletic commission, to allow MMA, as defined by the bill, in their territory without breaching the Criminal Code.

What exactly does the bill do? First, prize fights will remain illegal in Canada. The bill goes further in defining a prize fight by adding “feet” to the definition, to include fights in which the combatants use their feet as well as their fists and hands. The bill then lists four exceptions to the definition of prize fights. These exceptions are not prize fights, but rather authorized combative sports.

The first is contests between amateur athletes participating in sports on the program of the International Olympic Committee or the International Paralympic Committee. This exception covers sports including boxing, fencing, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling and tae kwon do.

The second and third exceptions are for contests between amateur athletes in sports designated by the province or a body appointed by the province. These exceptions cover sports such as karate, kick-boxing and mixed boxing, depending on the province.

The fourth and final exception covers professional contests, and states that they are exempted from the prize fight ban if, and only if, the fight is:

held...with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board, commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the province’s legislature for the control of sport within the province.

It is important to note that a number of provinces such as Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as municipalities such as Edmonton and Calgary have already moved on this front and have changed their definition of combat sports in order to allow MMA. When we pass the bill, Parliament will simply be updating the Criminal Code to make it consistent with the laws in these places.

Also, it is important to note that no province or municipality, depending on which level of government regulates combative sports in that province, will be obliged to allow MMA. At the end of the day the choice still rests with them, which I believe most people would feel is appropriate.

Even those who are not fans of MMA will know the popularity of the sport has grown significantly and quickly in Canada.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, is the largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world. Many proud Canadians are aware that Georges St-Pierre, one of the biggest stars in UFC and the current welterweight champion, comes from Saint-Isidore, Quebec. He has won all but two of his 26 MMA contests and was named the Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

However, while Georges St-Pierre may be the most renowned Canadian in UFC, he is not alone and is inspiring a generation of athletes. Some of them will go on to compete in the ring, but an incredible number of people take advantage of the training regimes for these fighters and it has become a popular form of recreational exercise. It allows people to be active and challenge themselves in ways that are fun, while emulating some of the things that popular athletes are doing.

To put this into perspective and to show how widespread this phenomenon is becoming, there is a young volunteer in my office who comes from Little Rapids, which is a small town just north of Thessalon in the riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. She is a whip smart university student who has taken up kick-boxing for exercise. She is not looking to compete in any fights, but assures me it is a fantastic form of exercise. However, there are legitimate concerns about the increased popularity of MMA as well.

The risk of concussion definitely increases as an individual goes from training into an actual fight. However, concussions can occur in any kind of sport. We want to ensure that the governing bodies of all sports take the risk of injury seriously and manage the risk of concussion meaningfully.

My colleague, the member for Sudbury, has done great work on concussions. He himself has introduced a private member’s bill to address the concussion epidemic by establishing a system for collecting data on sports injuries, rules governing concussions and standards for the education and training of coaches. This data collection system would provide financial incentives to assist amateur sports organizations in introducing the proposed protocols.

I encourage all members to familiarize themselves with this bill and to vote for it.

The member for Sudbury assures me that UFC has some of the best protocols for concussion testing in any of the professional sports and the MMA has a lower rate of knockouts than boxing, which means there is a reduced risk of traumatic head injury. In fact, I understand that there are studies that show that the rate of concussions in MMA is more in line with that of hockey or football than with boxing. With that in mind, this bill would create a federal framework that would allow provinces to apply their own regulations, with the goal of better regulating the sport and ensuring the health and safety of its athletes.

When the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs heard from Dr. Teresa DeFreitas, a sports medicine consultant on the subject, she had this to say:

—banning a sport is not the way to go. I believe that if we are well represented with safety regulations and with medical presence that we can make sure these athletes are safe.

I believe it is an appropriate position that we have seen many instances of sports adjusting their regulations to create safer environments for the athletes. Just last week, we witnessed Hockey Canada remove bodychecking at the peewee level, which is hoped to limit injuries in young hockey players in the age group that has perhaps the widest range of size. Anyone who has watched a peewee game will notice that some players are still boys and some have developed to the size of young men. I think Hockey Canada's decision acknowledged that the potential for risk in this age group outweighed the benefits of allowing these players to develop the skills related to checking. Time will tell what the effects of this change are, but it certainly illustrates Dr. DeFreitas' point rather well.

In conclusion, I am happy to add my support to this bill. By updating the Criminal Code, we are acknowledging the reality of what is happening across Canada while ensuring that the provinces have the jurisdictional right to regulate combat sports. It is the right thing to do and I urge all MPs to support this bill.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2013 / 6 p.m.
See context

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I admit I am particularly pleased and happy to rise in the House this evening to contribute to a debate on Bill S-209 because this is a golden opportunity to talk about one of my passions, Meibukan karate, an art that I have practised for 25 years and that I teach to children in my riding. What a coincidence that I will be giving a course at the Cascades Sports Club in Chelsea this evening.

However, even though I am the sensei of a karate dojo, I admit I hesitated for a long time to support this bill. Some may find that strange, but the fact that I practise martial arts does not necessarily mean I automatically support professional combative sports or that I support a bill that will have the effect of enabling professional mixed martial arts and MMA fights to spread more easily.

I would inform the House that there is a significant difference between the sports approach to martial arts and the traditional approach. A distinction must be drawn between a sport and an art. I follow the traditional and most ancient path in martial arts. Like many karatekas, I am guided by moral and spiritual principles. Those principles have been left to us by the grand masters of the past. Being a disciple of the way of the warrior, I am required to observe them. Grand master Miyagi Chojun Sensei, the sensei of my grand master, Meitoku Yagi, and the founder of the Goju-Ryu style of karate, wrote the following to his students before he died: "Strike no one. Let no one strike you. No incident should occur. These are the fundamental laws of my teaching."

Gichin Funakoshi, grand master of the Shotokan style of karate, has left us 20 principles, many of which are of a moral nature, such as: never forget that karate begins and ends with respect; there is no first attack in karate; karate forges honesty and promotes mental technique; karate is the journey of an entire lifetime; and constantly polish your mind.

It is important to note that the opponent in traditional martial arts is not others or a competitor, but oneself: our pride, our self-esteem, our vulgarity and our immorality.

In the traditional approach, martial arts are as much a quest for self-improvement as for physical or competitive improvement. As a result of that approach, I admit I initially found the sport of MMA violent and vulgar, unworthy of the noble values I had learned in the martial arts and of the way of the warrior, which I strove and still strive to follow.

Today, however, I am pleased to say that I have changed my mind because the sport has changed considerably, and athletes such as Canadian Georges St-Pierre, or GSP, have become excellent role models for young people who practise martial arts. I have also had the opportunity to associate with and teach several MMA athletes, and I have observed their respect for the traditional martial arts.

However, even though I am delighted that the sport has become healthier, I want to say that my first responsibility as a member of Parliament is to protect the safety of Canadians and athletes involved in combative sports, not to promote one sport or another. It is with that in mind that I am contributing to this debate today

Professional boxing is already legal, and concussions and their impact on the health of boxers are proven facts. A legitimate question therefore arises: is the sport of MMA more dangerous than boxing?

I am pleased to learn that the answer is no. In the area of head injuries and concussions, the sport of MMA fighting is comparable to boxing, the only sport excluded from the current Criminal Code definition of “prize fight”. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing, a fact that suggests a lower risk of traumatic brain injury in MMA fights than in other combative sports.

The very nature of the discipline, in which, unlike in boxing, a fight can be terminated otherwise than by a blow to the head, including by means of submission techniques, also results in lower rates of traumatic brain injury per competition. That is good news.

Furthermore, the gloves used in MMA are less substantial and lighter, which significantly reduces the number of knockouts and the after-effects of concussions for MMA athletes.

It is also important to point out that experts say that in the field of sports regulation and in medical terms, the practice of mixed martial arts is now subject to good oversight. Medically, I am happy to say that this sport has significantly cleaned up its practices and now uses the highest standards in the combative sports industry world. I personally know that athletes who practise this sport are subject to ongoing medical assessments, just as in boxing and in other sports.

Medically, and specifically with regard to concussions and the return of competitors to competition, mixed martial arts combative sports are now also subject to strict provincial regulations. For example, Ontario has regulations on non-issuance and the suspension of licences when medical requirements are not respected.

The City of Edmonton, for example, via the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, also has strict medical regulations for mixed martial arts combative sports. Therefore, on the basis of safety, there are good reasons to change the existing law. It is truly bad that section 83(2) of the Criminal Code concerning prize fights has not been amended since 1934.

Bill S-209 would modernize the definition of prize fighting and would expand the exemptions to the definition of prize fighting to reflect today's reality and, among other things, would allow for better legal oversight at the provincial level of mixed martial arts contests everywhere in Canada. The bill would allow Canadians to enjoy mixed martial arts by changing the law in two important ways.

First, Bill S-209 would amend the definition of prize fighting by adding “feet” to the definition of prize fight. The amendment reads as follows: ““Prize fight” means an encounter or fight with fists, hands or feet...”. The addition of feet would expand the definition of prize fighting to reflect the reality of combative sports today.

Second, Bill S-209 would expand the exemptions to the definition of prize fighting to make Olympic combative sports like boxing, fencing, wrestling, free-style combat, judo or tae kwon do legal. However, mixed martial arts or MMA, a combative sport that emerged some 20 years ago, would also be exempted and is becoming rapidly popular, both in Canada and internationally.

The regulation of mixed martial arts, as I said, falls under provincial jurisdiction, but Bill S-209, by establishing a clear, updated legal framework and applying it nationally, would allow the provinces to better regulate this emerging sport throughout the country.

Canadians, whether as athletes or supporters, have fully participated in the emergence of this new sport. Canadian mixed martial arts athletes are among the best in the world. Mixed martial arts events in Canada now draw record crowds and provide significant economic benefits for the provinces and towns that host them.

The NDP therefore wants to allow this sport to benefit from this clear updated legal framework at the federal level so that provinces—and it is important to point out that it is the provinces that will be deciding—can apply their own regulations with the goal of better regulating this sport and ensuring the health and safety of its athletes.

This is why I am happy to rise in this chamber and support the bill.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, like many Canadians, I have some reservations about this kind of sport. The glorified violence in combat sports, such as boxing or extreme fighting, has a social cost.

In addition, it is not a hot topic in Canadian law, even though the popularity of prize fighting is on the rise and it occasionally has an impact on the health and safety of our athletes.

Prize fights are illegal in Canada, but the context has changed. It is our duty as legislators to look into the issues that have an impact on Canada’s ever-evolving society.

We study and examine the issues and we make suggestions about the best way to remedy these problems with appropriate bills. Bill S-209 aims at making the necessary changes to the definition of “prize fight” and the associated exceptions to reflect the reality of combat sports today.

The bill contains provisions aimed at decreasing the risk of head injury and concussion. It also broadens the exceptions to the definition of prize fight to legalize Olympic combat sports such as boxing, fencing, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, and judo, as well as mixed martial arts, a combat sport that appeared about 20 years ago and is rapidly growing both in Canada and around the world. Mixed martial arts is generally defined as a combat sport in which a number of different fighting techniques are permitted and used.

We are supporting this bill at third reading for the following reasons: Bill S-209 will update the definition of “prize fight” and the exceptions to it set out in the Criminal Code; and it will give the provinces and designated monitoring bodies a clear legal framework for holding sport contests.

Tom Wright, Director of Operations for UFC Canada, has commented on this issue, and I quote: “We are now regulated either provincially or municipally in seven of our 10 provinces and the three territories. We are regulated in 46 of the 48 states…. [B]ecause of section 83(2) of the Criminal Code there is this ambiguity—a lack of clarity—as it relates to the definition of prizefighting.”

Under the current definition of “prize fight” in section 83 of the Criminal Code, only boxing is permitted and only under certain circumstances. This definition was drafted in 1934 and does not reflect the current reality and state of combat sports.

The establishment of a clear legal framework throughout the country would help the provinces better regulate this growing sport. It would ultimately be up to the provinces to decide whether this type of sporting event should be permitted or not within their province. Regulating mixed martial arts would be an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Bill S-209 will strengthen the power of the provinces to regulate this kind of fight, something that is still illegal at the federal level.

It is important to note that, unlike contact sports such as hockey and football, combative sports are regulated by third parties, such as the provinces or medical specialists, and not by the sport itself. The licensing considerations are strictly controlled by the province or the authority it designates for this purpose.

We want to allow provincial and municipal governments to act in harmony with their counterparts because right now every province operates in isolation to some extent.

A number of provinces, including Quebec, already have clear regulations. Prize fighting events are held in Quebec as the regulations are already in place, and these events are very popular. However, this is not the case in all provinces. The Criminal Code must be amended to get rid of these grey areas.

Across the country the situation is as follows: Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have regulations that legalize mixed martial arts within the province. British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick and the three territories delegate responsibility for prize fights to the municipalities. Finally, discussions are under way in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island to adopt regulations that are similar to those in Quebec.

Canadians, whether they are athletes or fans, are full participants in the emergence of this sport. Canadian mixed martial arts fighters are among the best in the world. One of them is Georges St-Pierre, the UFC champion from Montreal. He is probably the best-known athlete in the sport. He once said he was not fighting to be a champion, but to leave a legacy.

This is exactly what Bill S-209 will do. If there are some mixed martial artists watching our debate this evening, I would like to congratulate the athletes and their coaches, families and friends who are working hard to protect the health and safety of the athletes who practise the sport.

Mixed martial arts matches in Canada draw record crowds and have a substantial economic impact on the provinces and cities that welcome them. We want to allow this sport to benefit from a clear and up-to-date legal framework at the federal level so that the provinces can enforce their own regulations, for properly controlling the sport and protecting the health and safety of the athletes.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 6th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open the third reading debate of Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

No changes were proposed in committee, so Bill S-209 has not been amended. Since the bill is rather short, that is not surprising. We heard from several interesting witnesses in committee. Most of them were in favour of this bill, and only one opposed it.

I think it is important to take everyone's opinions into account so that we make the best possible decisions. The concerns that were raised were not about the bill itself, but about combative sports in general.

This is not a matter of promoting a specific sport. All sports involve their own risks. Many Canadians participate in certain sports knowing full well the associated risks.

This bill would modernize the Criminal Code to reflect what is really going on in our society by decriminalizing several extremely popular combative sports, such as karate, tae kwon do and mixed martial arts.

Although they are illegal under the Criminal Code, these sports are widely practised by Canadians across the country. The provinces tolerate these sports by designating them as boxing matches. Since the combative sports section of our Criminal Code has not been updated in 80 years, the provinces have had no choice but to tolerate them.

This situation is all the more ridiculous considering that certain combative sports are now Olympic sports, but they are illegal in Canada if we enforce the Criminal Code word for word. Young children participate in these sports.

No one in the House is questioning a person's right to participate in these sports. We are not trying to promote these sports or discourage Canadians from participating in them. All we want to do is modernize our laws to reflect today's reality.

The Canadian Medical Association told us that it thinks we should ban mixed martial arts and boxing, but it did not have a problem with other combative sports, such as karate or tae kwon do, which also involve hits to the head.

However, with the exception of boxing, these sports are all officially illegal, but tolerated. Doing nothing would not change anything. People would continue to participate in these sports, even though they could technically wind up in court for doing so.

Other sports, for example skiing and hockey, cause many serious injuries such as fractures and concussions. If we had to ban every sport involving risks, only sports such as curling and badminton would be left.

During the same meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, another doctor who works in the world of combative sport, told us that he supports the bill. He explained that the health risks for participants can be reduced considerably by implementing safety regulations and measures. This particular doctor believes that by decriminalizing these sports we will foster regulated rather than underground competitions, which occur more frequently than we might imagine.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University faculty of medicine published an article in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2006. They studied injuries sustained in mixed martial arts, which they found were similar to those in boxing and other combative sports. What is more surprising is that they believe fewer brain injuries are sustained in mixed martial arts than in boxing, because fewer mixed martial arts competitions end in knockouts compared to boxing.

As members probably know, a knockout usually occurs when the brain hits hard against the skull. However, mixed martial arts fights frequently end as a result of an armlock or choke. The competitors are often less inclined to punch because they want to avoid being pinned to the ground. In short, given that boxing is legal, we really do not have any good reasons to ban mixed martial arts.

This bill will decriminalize these sports and allow the provinces to regulate them.

A province could pass much stricter regulations for amateur mixed martial arts contests, such as not allowing a competitor to hit an opponent who is down. The bill does not aim to dictate rules for the sport; it aims to give tools to the provinces. The situation is ambiguous right now. If we do not amend the Criminal Code, there will be a threat hanging over the heads of the organizations involved in these disciplines because someone could contest their legality in court.

The bill will also have a positive impact on the growing industry of professional fights, which has been incredibly successful in Canada in the past few years. UFC is unbelievably popular across the entire country. Canadians represent approximately 25% of the global fan base. Organizers would obviously like to arrange fights in Canada as often as possible, which would inevitably bring a large number of tourists as well. There will be significant economic spinoffs for Canada. The provinces and cities will no longer have to creatively interpret the bill and will have more flexibility in allowing these types of competitions.

People are likely wondering why this bill adds only feet to the current definition of a prize fight. The reason is simple: there are no combat sports that do not use fists, hands or feet in some way, but there are sports, such as football and hockey, where contact is permitted with other parts of the body. By adding more descriptors, we would simply be adding more problems. That is why the proposed definition mentions only fists, hands and feet.

While this bill might not spark a revolution, it is still important. The prize fight section of the Criminal Code has not been amended since 1934, despite the fact that the world of combat sports has changed dramatically in the past 80 years. It is important that we, as parliamentarians, update the Criminal Code to reflect that reality.

This is one of those rare bills that we can all agree with, and I hope that all members will support it.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 6th, 2013 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today in support of Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

Most of the attention given to Bill S-209 has focused upon the professional mixed martial arts matches that are contemplated by the bill, and that will be my first area of focus. Somewhat less attention has been given to the aspects of the bill that deal with amateur combative sports. I will speak later about that aspect of Bill S-209.

When the prize fight offence was first enacted by Parliament in 1892, there were no exceptions to the offence. In the Statutes of Canada, 1932-33, exceptions were made for boxing prizefights. Currently section 83 of the Criminal Code bans all prizefights, and then lists the exceptions to the offence. The first exception is for amateur boxing matches that meet the minimum glove weight. That is the requirement, the minimum glove weight. Each amateur boxing glove must weigh at least 140 grams.

The second exception is for a pro boxing match that is licensed by a province or an amateur “under glove weight” boxing match that is licensed by a province. Throughout my remarks, please understand that when I say province, this includes territories, which is exactly how the Interpretation Act defines it.

The amateur and professional boxing exceptions that I have just spoken of are the only exceptions that currently exist within section 83 of the Criminal Code. Former Bill C-31, introduced during the second session of the 40th Parliament, died on the order paper. This included a proposal to expand the exceptions in section 83, but only for amateur combative sports. An exception to the section 83 ban on prizefights for professional mixed martial arts was not a feature of the former Bill C-31.

Some provinces have chosen to license professional mixed martial arts contests as professional boxing matches under section 83 of the Criminal Code. While not all provinces have interpreted professional boxing in this way, it is clear that it is the responsibility of the Attorney General of the province to determine whether section 83 of the Criminal Code has been breached, and if so, whether to prosecute those involved with a mixed martial arts contest.

In any case, Bill S-209 will certainly clarify that provinces may license professional mixed martial arts contests, and the matches will clearly fall within the section 83 exceptions to the prizefighting offence. Some provinces are awaiting this clarity before they will move to license professional mixed martial arts matches.

Under Bill S-209, a professional boxing match that is licensed by a province and a professional mixed martial arts match that is licensed by a province would be the only forms of professional combative sport that would be exempted from the section 83 prizefighting offence. Bill S-209 does not contemplate other professional combative sport exceptions.

I want to note that professional wrestling has not been considered to engage the prizefight offence provisions in section 83 of the Criminal Code. Although professional wrestlers are trained athletes, professional wrestling is viewed as entertainment that is carefully choreographed and therefore not as a prizefight.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has heard about the many safeguards that exist in the world of professional mixed martial arts, including the use of medical doctors who are independent of the athletes and who do assessments before, during and after the matches. Moreover, unlike boxing, the athlete may tap out, thereby signalling submission. Most importantly, under Bill S-209, the province would determine what additional safeguards and conditions it will attach to the provincial license for a professional mixed martial arts contest.

Professional mixed martial arts and professional boxing each carry a risk of injury. While a knockout is one way to win a match in boxing, a match can also be won on points that include blows to the body. In mixed martial arts, matches can be won by submission holds or by an athlete tapping to signal submission.

It seems to me that it is better to allow provincial regulation of boxing and mixed martial arts, because a regulated environment is a safer environment than one that is not regulated. Conditions can be inserted that promote health and safety of athletes. I am satisfied that the provinces are best placed to determine the acceptance by the provincial public of pro boxing and pro mixed martial arts matches, and to determine the conditions to granting a provincial license for a prizefight. If Bill S-209 is adopted, the police will continue to have investigative responsibility for prizefights in combative sports that are unsanctioned and therefore illegal.

With regard to prosecution, the Attorney General of each province, as I have noted earlier, is responsible for the prosecution of Criminal Code offences within the province. Bill S-209 would not in any way change this investigative or prosecutorial responsibility. I am confident that the police and prosecutors will be vigilant in investigating and prosecuting prizefights that are not sanctioned by a province.

There has been recent media attention to an unsanctioned martial arts contest in the United States in which a Canadian athlete died. Amending the Criminal Code, section 83, would encourage professional athletes in Canada to participate in licensed boxing and mixed martial arts events where there is medical supervision before, during and after the match, and also in situations where rules and conditions of licensing are carefully considered by the provinces.

Let me speak now about amateur combative sports. With one small addition that I shall soon discuss, Bill S-209 reproduces the proposed amateur combative sport amendments to section 83 that were found in former Bill C-31. That bill would have amended section 83 of the Criminal Code in order to expand amateur prizefights beyond amateur boxing to include any amateur combative sport contest that is sanctioned by the province. Similarly, Bill S-209 would expand the range of provincial decision-making related to amateur combative sports.

They key concepts in Bill S-209 relating to amateur combative sports are the following:

First, a province would be able to authorize a prizefight in an amateur combative sport that is on the Olympic program. The addition, found within Bill S-209 but not found in former Bill 31, which I mentioned earlier, adds that a province would be able to authorize amateur prizefights in a combative sport that is on the Paralympic program. Moreover, if the province so chooses, it could require licensing for prizefights in Olympic or Paralympic amateur sports.

Second, a province would be able to authorize a prizefight in an amateur combative sport that the province chooses to place on a list of designated amateur combative sports. Here again, if the province desires, it could require licensing.

Third, Bill S-209 adds an exception for any amateur combative sport prizefight if the province has granted a licence. This gives a province the ability to license an amateur combative sport prizefight even if the amateur combative sport is not on the Olympic program, the Paralympic program or the provincially designated amateur combative sport list.

Bill S-209 would introduce far greater provincial choice on the range of amateur combative sport prizefights that could occur than currently exists under section 83 of the Criminal Code. This seems entirely fitting, because provinces are best placed to determine whether there is public acceptance and what measures need to be in place to assure athlete safety in a particular amateur combative sport or for a particular competition.

In this day and age it is entirely appropriate to update the Criminal Code to ensure that amateur combative sport prizefights are clearly on side with the law. I believe that amateur athletes in combative sports beyond boxing should clearly be able to participate in prizefights if the province has sanctioned the matches.

Members will have noticed a small change in Bill S-209 relating to amateur boxing when compared with the existing section 83 of the Criminal Code. Currently an amateur boxing match that uses the minimum glove weight does not need to have any provincial sanction. If “underweight” gloves are used, currently the match must obtain a provincial licence. With Bill S-209, even if the current minimum glove weight is used for an amateur boxing prize fight, the province will decide whether it will simply allow the match because amateur boxing is on the Olympic program or whether it will require that the amateur boxing prizefight obtain a provincial licence.

While not everyone enjoys watching professional mixed martial arts matches, the sport has reached the point of great popularity in Canada for both fans and athletes. I am much happier to see these events clearly legalized so that whenever a province grants a licence for a match, we can be assured that athlete safety is top of mind.

Having provincially sanctioned matches will make it very clear that a mixed martial arts prizefight that does not hold a provincial licence is an illegal activity. I want to underscore that promoters, participants, surgeons, aides, referees, attendees and even reporters at illegal prizefights are subject to police investigation and to prosecution under section 83 of the Criminal Code.

In closing, I encourage all members to support the bill.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 6th, 2013 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-209. As the previous speaker pointed out, this issue was also addressed in Bill C-31, which was introduced in a previous Parliament.

Bill S-209 seeks to update section 82 of the Criminal Code to include mixed martial arts and, more generally, prize fights. Debates on this issue can get quite heated, since some people disapprove of these sports for reasons that are sometimes emotional, but nonetheless legitimate.

As my hon. colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel so eloquently stated, this is first and foremost a legislative issue, not a sports-related one. This distinction must be clear, since sporting activities can become a social issue. As legislators, I believe that our role is to ensure that there is a clear legal framework in place to properly regulate sports.

What does “properly regulate” mean? That is a very important question. At this time, we all know that mixed martial arts fights take place throughout most of Canada, in most municipalities, provinces and territories, where the athletics commissions that have been created apply their own definitions to the sport in order to circumvent section 82 of the Criminal Code and make these fights subject to provincial legislation.

For instance, when the UFC—the most popular and largest mixed martial arts league—championships were held in Montreal, Quebec, the Government of Quebec logo appeared on the referees' jackets, sending the message that the provincial government is very involved in regulating the sport and can impose sanctions.

We are in a rather odd situation, given that the sport is practised regardless, even though the Criminal Code is rather vague about it all. This means that major leagues like the UFC have to carefully watch over and protect their athletes, for insurance reasons, among others. Nevertheless, smaller leagues are less subject to this obligation.

Decriminalizing these fights will give the provinces the discretion to decide whether such fights can take place within their borders. Furthermore, bringing the smaller leagues and all fights into the spotlight will help ensure that they are all properly sanctioned and regulated.

The example given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice is very interesting. Historically speaking, and even more recently, the most tragic incidents have occurred during illegal or underground fights. Given that this sport will continue to be practised regardless of the outcome of our vote on this bill, we do not want to see these fights go underground. In order to properly regulate this sport, we want everything to be clear. I cannot emphasize this enough, for it is truly key. This is really a legal issue, not a sports-related one, as the various members who have already spoken on the matter have pointed out.

I would like to bring up another interesting point. We asked people why they oppose this sport, and their reasons were often emotional ones. People seem to think that the injury rate is very high. Yet, studies have shown the opposite. There are fewer concussions in mixed martial arts than in boxing, for example.

That shows that people sometimes forget that mixed marital arts blends a number of disciplines—some of which are permitted at and part of the Olympics—such as tae kwon do, judo and wrestling. Boxing is legal in Canada and it involves only hits to the head. There are various ways of winning a fight in mixed marital arts, including by submission. It is important to point that out because certain studies have shown that there are far fewer injuries than in other sports, such as football and hockey. People need to take that into consideration before they write the sport off as being more dangerous.

The witnesses heard by the Senate committee were divided, particularly those in the medical community. I would be remiss if I did not mention those who oppose this type of contest and only mentioned those who are in favour. The Canadian Medical Association, for example, has spoken out against this bill. I would like to talk more about why. Doctors are stakeholders in this issue, but they do not have reason enough to oppose the sport. The Canadian Medical Association opposes all sports that aim to incapacitate an opponent. However, there is a grey area there.

The same goes for football, where there is blocking, and hockey, where there is checking. A person playing defence might be tasked with neutralizing his opponent in a certain way. In that context, we understand the association's position, but in this case enough studies show and enough doctors agree that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the injury rate is higher in combative sport. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I thought that was very important to point out.

In mixed martial arts, the rules in place ensure that the athletes are in good health and that they do not suffer serious injuries, such as concussions. The current rules are better than the ones for football and hockey. Other sports should consider adopting similar rules. For example, an athlete who has participated in a fight cannot participate in another before a significant period of time has passed. What is more, the provincial governments are responsible for making the rules. When we are talking about the rate of injury and concussions, we have to keep in mind that there is already a solid set of rules in place.

Speaking of the provinces, only a handful of them still do not allow this sport. I wonder what they have to say about all this. The bill is interesting in that sense because it leaves the final decision to the provinces and does not tell them what to do. It is all there in black and white. If a province decides to allow this sport to be practised in its jurisdiction, then it is up to that province to set up an athletic commission to govern this sport. We are not talking about legalizing a sport. We are talking about decriminalizing it and then leaving it up to the provinces to use their sound judgment and wisdom in their own jurisdiction to oversee the whole thing.

Finally—and I cannot stress this enough—this is not a matter of promoting one sport over another. This is a legal issue. It is a question of removing an ambiguity that currently exists and decriminalizing a sport so that the provinces can regulate it better. This sport already exists, and the athletes who practise it—and we know that their numbers are growing in Canada—need to be properly monitored and kept safe.

That is what we are trying to do today. For that reason, I will support the bill.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 6th, 2013 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to rise today in the House to speak in support of Bill S-209. I want to applaud the hard work of the Liberal member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. He has worked very hard with other members from all parties and with the mixed martial arts community to make this happen. I am also very pleased that the government is in support of this Liberal initiative in the House of Commons.

The purpose of this bill is to legalize certain combat sports that are currently illegal under the Criminal Code. Mixed martial arts is a growing sport, and its popularity is clear. It is, therefore, critical that we amend the Criminal Code so as to remove any uncertainty regarding the legality of the sport. By way of background, the provisions of the Criminal Code that deal with prizefighting have not been amended since 1934. Much has changed, obviously, since then.

During the early decades of the last century, these sports were primarily boxing and wrestling. Following the conclusion of the Second World War, mixed martial arts and combat sports saw significant growth.

Let me give a few examples of the growth in this industry, in particular the influence of martial arts such as judo, karate and tae kwon do. The influence of Asia in this regard is remarkable and a direct result of our Allied soldiers having been stationed overseas in Asia. Soldiers brought those sports back home, and today we can see how far they have come in becoming mainstream. Young and old, all appreciate these sports. Even more enjoy watching them, either in person or on television. Likewise, these sports are recognized by the Olympic organizing committee.

While these sports are somewhat new and popular, some are still illegal because the only exception to prizefighting set out in the Criminal Code is boxing. There can be a situation then, for example—and this happens—when, let us say, two women trained in the sport of tae kwon do decide to have a match for a prize in a basement. This fight would be only legal so long as they do not use their feet. The definition, therefore, is too restrictive and needs to be expanded. That is why Bill S-209 intends to change the definition to include feet.

As it was established in the Senate committee, adding more descriptors to this definition, such as elbows and knees, is not necessary and could even be counterproductive since contact sports such as hockey could then be considered prizefighting sports. That is why the definition is limited to fists and feet. By modernizing the Criminal Code to permit combative sports such as mixed martial arts and karate, we would go a long way to encouraging wider acceptance of these activities as legitimate and mainstream sports.

One other feature of this bill is to provide greater uniformity and, again, clarity from one jurisdiction to another. Currently, some provinces call mixed martial arts “boxing” to ensure compliance with the Criminal Code. They do so because the code provision specifically references hands and fists. In other provinces, these sports are not permitted simply because those provinces apply a more stringent standard to the application of the Criminal Code.

As a result of this lack of uniformity, many groups organize underground contests that are not governed by provincial commissions. This, as everyone can imagine, is very dangerous. In underground contests, there are seldom any safety standards or, if there are safety standards, they vary from contest to contest. This bill would hopefully lift these underground matches to the public arena where they belong and where they could be properly regulated by the provinces. In fact, the bill would free provinces to construct or develop safety standards as they see fit, and we assume the provinces would look to each other for best practices in this regard.

Likewise, as my colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel noted in an earlier speech, these proposed changes to the Criminal Code would provide amateur and professional level organizations enhanced stature and public approval through appropriate legislative oversight, when needed.

It is true that some Canadians have raised concerns about the perceived violence contained in these sports. Injury in sport is common. We see it time and time again in hockey, when a clean check on an opponent can cause great damage. How often do we see in hockey games concussions and injury resulting from a hard check? We need only recall the Montreal-Ottawa game just this past Thursday, when we saw Lars Eller knocked out, injured as a result of a check. Depending on which team one roots for, that particular check was either clean or dirty. The point is that in most sports, contact sports particularly, the risk of injury exists.

As noted by the mover of the bill, we have heard from experts who appeared at committee and referred to a study from Johns Hopkins University that compared injuries resulting from mixed martial arts to those occurring in other major sports. The rate of injuries is not inconsistent with that of other sports, for example, hockey. In fact, it suggests that the injuries in mixed martial arts are generally less serious than those in boxing.

The reality is that mixed martial arts sports exist and a significant number of Canadians participate in them. These sports should not be confined or relegated to underground contests away from public scrutiny and proper regulations, and that is exactly the point. The sport of mixed martial arts must be regulated, not banned. Prohibition only leads to more underground fights and, as I mentioned, this is dangerous. Prohibition also means that the illegal underground economy is allowed to benefit. Revenues from underground prizefighting go undeclared, which again does not benefit the public nor taxpayers.

We know that when we watch a UFC contest, we are watching athletes. We are watching individuals who take their sport seriously. We are watching athletes who train hard. We are watching athletes who respect each other. We also know that every precaution is taken to limit injury. However, when injury does occur, medical teams are ready to intervene. My colleagues will know that Canada is the home of the world's most accomplished mixed martial arts athlete. Quebec's Georges St-Pierre is a world champion and an example of professionalism. He is a true athlete.

Bill S-209 would support both fans and organizers, which will in turn help improve the Canadian economy. Expanding the scope of what is permissible under the Criminal Code is important.

For all these reasons, I support the bill and congratulate my Liberal colleague for his efforts to modernize the Criminal Code to reflect the new realities of these popular sports.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 6th, 2013 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

I think it is important to start by making one thing perfectly clear about this bill. Everyone who has spoken about this bill today has said the same thing. The purpose here is not necessarily to promote a sport like mixed martial arts over another, but simply to update the Criminal Code to reflect current practices.

Personally, like many people from my generation, I was a Bruce Lee fan growing up, but that does not mean I wanted to go out and hit everyone just to be like him. However, I did take lessons that were very interesting. They gave me discipline and taught me to take care of my body. I was not going to hit everyone just for the sake of doing so or so that I could emulate Bruce Lee.

Things change and that is what we are seeing now, in a way. Mixed martial arts are a little more structured. This sport is quite new. The members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights had a chance to study the bill and many witnesses appeared before the committee, including members of the UFC.

I would like to point out that the UFC is a league. It does not necessarily represent the entire sport. It is a well-organized league. Georges St-Pierre, who is famous in Quebec, Canada and around the world is a member of that league. Again, I am not here to promote this sport, but to say that society has changed and adopted this sport.

At the federal level, the objective is to decriminalize this sport. We do not want to regulate it by proposing rules. We want to leave it up to the provinces to regulate it. In fact, that is what is happening now, even though the sport is technically illegal under the Criminal Code. Subsection 83(2) of the Criminal Code legalizes or decriminalizes boxing, but it does not cover sports like karate, kung fu or, in this case, mixed martial arts.

Our objective is to come up with a certain definition. I am not going to get into the details of that definition, because I think everyone agrees on this. There was no real discussion with regard to the amendments because we all agree on this point. A few questions were asked and the experts who came to committee answered those questions.

We are happy with this bill. I thank my colleague, the member for Chambly—Borduas and the NDP's sports critic. He has worked very hard on this issue.

What I am saying is that society is changing. More and more people are participating in this sport. Although the sport is prohibited under the Criminal Code, such events attract tens of thousands of spectators at places such as the Bell Centre in Montreal and bring in a lot of revenue. Toronto hosted the largest mixed martial arts event in Canada.

Once again, as my colleagues have said, this is not about promoting the sport. We simply want to look at the facts. The provinces already regulate the sport with certain protocols. For example, they require athletes to have a certain skill level. Not just anyone can walk into an arena to fight.

However, if we continue to ignore the facts and say that we are against mixed martial arts and do not want it happening in our backyard, nothing will change. The sport will remain a crime or remain technically illegal, and there will be a black market. That means that people will continue to fight, but the fights will not be properly regulated.

The purpose of the bill is to decriminalize this sport at the federal level and to let the provinces create their own regulations. Several provinces—though not all—have already developed regulations for this sport. However, things are evolving. This sport is very new on the international scene. We are seeing a change within Canadian society.

We know that the people of Quebec have accepted this sport. When there is a major public event, the police do not try to interfere or to stop it. Of course, I am not saying that everyone supports these sports. I am not a big fan myself. I would rather watch a Bruce Lee movie than see people fighting for real in a cage, something I find quite violent.

That being said, I am not passing judgment, and I do not necessarily wish for the federal government to intervene and decide that, based on its moral values, these activities are wrong and must be regulated and criminalized. Things have simply evolved.

The bill introduces legal changes to the Criminal Code. One change adds the word “feet” to a definition, in order to include some mixed martial arts sports. It reflects a societal change.

I will use karate as an example. My four- and seven-year-old nephews are both learning karate. This does not mean that they are particularly violent kids. On the contrary: their parents chose this sport as a way to direct their activities. That is exactly our message to the provinces: they can direct how these sports are practised. They have agreed to have these sports in their territory, so they should be responsible for regulating them.

Meanwhile, the federal government must make sure it does not create obstacles. It must also decriminalize these activities. We know that society has evolved, but the Criminal Code did not evolve in the same way. As a result, provinces may wonder whether they can regulate these sports. We have already seen cases where provinces worked around the problem, either by deciding to treat an event just like an ordinary boxing match or sport event, or by using other solutions. Provinces have tolerated the sport.

When we studied the bill in committee, all parties supported it because they saw it as a good option.

I would like to draw a parallel with another bill that was introduced. Bill C-290 addressed bets on individual events. I want to mention it because it was unanimously passed in the House. Unfortunately, the Senate has not gotten around to dealing with it yet. Now we have a bill from the other chamber. I am wondering how legitimate the Senate really is.

Bill C-290 was introduced by one of my NDP colleagues. The House agreed to it unanimously. Now it is at the Senate. People seem to be waking up. I even heard a Conservative member say that he did not know it passed and that he did not support it.

The bill is at the other chamber. I do not know what is happening with it. We heard that some Senators are not in favour of it. I am mentioning this because the same principle comes into play here. Certain provinces want to legalize both mixed martial arts and betting on individual events. It generates revenues. However, revenues are not the main argument. They simply want to legalize something that is currently illegal and take the money out of the black market and the underground economy.

Will not changing the Criminal Code immediately result in prohibition? Will that fix the problem? No. Society—be it the provinces, the people who watch the sport, or people in general—has changed and now accepts these sports.

I hope that Bill S-209, from the other chamber, will receive majority or unanimous support here. If the bill passes, we hope that Bill C-290, which was passed unanimously here, will make progress in the other, supposedly “wiser”, chamber. I put that in quotation marks because I am not entirely sure that is the case.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Private Members' Business

May 6th, 2013 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for informing me about the time. I will do my best to get the seven minutes in. I will take my remaining time at the next sitting.

I am very proud to stand today to offer my support for Bill S-209, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights). The rules governing prizefights have not been updated since 1934, and the current legislation simply does not represent the reality of what is happening in Canada.

In the Criminal Code as it stands, boxing is the only combative sport permitted, and even then, only in certain circumstances. Having this law that we turn a blind eye to is bad on two fronts. First, it can begin to undermine the legitimacy of other laws, which is bad for our legal system as a whole. Second, it creates uncertainty for people who organize or participate in sports such as mixed martial arts, commonly referred to as MMA. It is therefore timely for the House to address the discrepancy between what is written in statute and how the law is applied.

In my opinion, the bill strikes the right balance by allowing provinces and municipalities or designated regulatory bodies, such as an athletic commission, to allow MMA, as defined by the bill, in their territories without breaching the Criminal Code.

What exactly does the bill do? Prizefights would remain illegal in Canada. The bill goes further in defining a “prize fight” by adding “feet” to the definition. It would include fights in which combatants use their feet as well as their fists and hands. The bill then lists four exceptions to the definition of “prize fight”. These exceptions are not “prize fights” but rather are authorized combative sports.

The first is a contest between amateur athletes participating in sports in a program of the International Olympic Committee or the International Paralympic Committee. This exception covers sports including boxing, fencing, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling and tae kwon do.

The second and third exceptions are for contests between amateur athletes in sports designated by a province or a body appointed by a province. These exemptions cover sports such as karate, kick-boxing and mixed boxing, depending on the province.

The fourth and final exception covers professional contests. The bill states that they are exempt from the prizefight ban only if the fight is “held...with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board, commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the province's legislature for the control of sport within the province”.

A number of provinces, such as Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as municipalities such as Edmonton and Calgary, have already acted and have changed their definition of combat sports to allow MMA. By passing the bill, Parliament would simply be updating our legislation to make it consistent with the laws in these places.

It is important to note that no province or municipality, depending on which level of government regulates combative sports in a province, would be obliged to allow MMA. The ultimate choice would still rest with them.

There is significant growth in the popularity of MMA in Canada. Like many Canadians, I spent last Saturday evening watching UFC 159 on TV. UFC events have filled arenas such as the Bell Centre in Montreal and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, is the largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world. Georges St-Pierre, one of the biggest stars in UFC and the current welterweight champion, is from St. Isidore, Quebec. He boasts a 24-2 record in MMA and was named Sportsnet's athlete of the year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

However, while GSP may be the most renowned Canadian in the UFC, he is not the only one. For example, Mitch Gagnon trains in my own riding in Sudbury. After having an 8-1 record in MMA, he recently joined the UFC. His first contest was in July last year at UFC 149 in Calgary, and he recorded his first win at UFC 152 in Toronto last September.

Mitch trains with Team Shredder, which is housed in the Northern Ontario Multi Discipline Athletic Arts Academy in Sudbury. NOMDAAA, for short, trains students in mixed martial arts, tactical Sambo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai kick-boxing, Russian Systema, wrestling, judo and Yu Shin Do, and it offers cardio circuit training and athletic development as well. It has a proven track record of training champions and of ensuring a positive, motivating and fulfilling experience for all students, including me.

I spoke this week with Yves Charette, the owner/operator. They have over 150 students, both adults and children. He is very focused on providing confidence-building for the young children who are participating in many of these martial arts. I know that this is helping my own daughter with confidence.

We talk a lot about anti-bullying programs. When we provide children with confidence, it actually goes a long way in ensuring that bullying at school will not happen. These are some of the things that are important when we are talking about karate or any type of sport in which children can gain confidence. Whether mixed martial arts, hockey, football, basketball or canoeing, if it provides confidence for children, it is doing something right.

NOMDAAA is a not-for-profit organization that has received funding from the chief of police youth initiative fund, which also takes kids off the streets and provides them with training. It gives them something to do with their time and something to learn, which again builds that confidence. I am very proud of what NOMDAAA is doing in Sudbury.

I will save my final piece for next time, but I want to thank organizations such as NOMDAAA and the other amateur athletic groups that are doing great work from coast to coast to coast in this country.

I think this bill will allow us to see it at the professional level and will hopefully inspire kids to get involved and gain confidence.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

November 23rd, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved that Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to rise today in the House to support Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights). The purpose of this bill is to legalize certain combat sports that are currently illegal, but tolerated, so that they can be more closely monitored in order to prevent injuries.

It is important to amend the Criminal Code in order to eliminate any ambiguity regarding the legality of the various combat sports in Canada, which are growing in popularity.

The provisions of the Criminal Code that deal with prize fighting have not been amended since 1934. At that time, combat sports were basically limited to boxing and wrestling; however, since the end of the Second World War, they have seen unprecedented growth. For example, certain Asian martial arts, such as judo, karate and taekwondo, have become commonplace since soldiers stationed in Asia discovered them. Young Canadians across the country participate in these sports, which are all recognized by the Olympic organizing committee.

These sports are relatively new in our country and are still illegal because the only exception to prize fighting set out in the Criminal Code is boxing. The Criminal Code currently defines prize fighting as an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons.

According to this definition, two young people could organize an underground taekwondo match in a basement and it would not be considered a prize fight as long as they did not use their hands. This definition is too narrow. That is why, with Bill S-209, we are proposing that feet be added to this definition. As it was established in the Senate committee, adding more descriptors to this definition, such as elbows and knees, is not necessary and could even be counterproductive since contact sports, such as hockey, could then be considered prize fighting sports. That is why the new definition is limited to fists and feet.

By modernizing the Criminal Code to permit other combative sports such as mixed martial arts and karate, we are laying the groundwork for the general acceptance of these sports across the country. In fact, mixed martial arts, for example, are tolerated in some provinces, but not in others. Some provinces have called these contests boxing matches in order to allow them. Because the hands are used, the limits of the law are circumvented, and fans and those who practice combative sports are not penalized.

However, in other provinces this language is not used to circumvent the Criminal Code, and these sports are not permitted. Consequently, even today, many groups organize clandestine contests that are not governed by provincial standards. This is a serious problem because safety standards can vary from one contest to another, which increases the risk of injury to the fighters. If the Criminal Code is amended to allow these sports, the provinces will have the freedom to regulate them to protect the safety of fighters. In fact, the bill will give the provinces a great deal of latitude to regulate these sports as they see fit. Oversight of these sports contests at both the amateur and professional levels will be enhanced.

Some people may be wondering why we should legalize these combative sports, especially mixed martial arts, which are a source of concern for many Canadians. In addition to the fact that they are widely practised, they are much less dangerous to the health of participants than other commonly practised sports such as hockey and boxing.

As we heard in committee and in the Senate, a study by Johns Hopkins University, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2006, compared injuries sustained in mixed martial arts and in other sports. The conclusion was that the rate of injury is comparable to that in other combative sports.

Shockingly, injuries in mixed martial arts are generally less serious than in boxing. The reason in simple: fighters can call things off quickly, which they almost always do when they are in a position that is putting their health at risk. In boxing, fights often end with a knockout or when the referee calls it off.

Furthermore, since a large number of mixed martial arts fights take place on the ground and involve armlocks and chokes, blows to the head are less common than in boxing, in which almost all blows target the head. Over time, a mixed martial arts fighter receives fewer blows to the head, which reduces the risk of side effects.

In addition, contrary to popular belief, mixed martial arts are heavily regulated. Fighters cannot do whatever they want and must comply with a number of regulations to avoid injuries. These regulations include a total ban on blows to the eyes or head. They must also wear a jockstrap, gloves and a mouthguard, which limit injuries. Hockey, our national sport, results in just as many—if not more—injuries than mixed martial arts.

Sports must be regulated, not banned. Banning them would only increase the number of underground fights, which are dangerous for participants, since they do not always take all of the safety measures required to properly regulate such fights. This includes having a medical team that is prepared to intervene, as well as safety regulations, such as requiring gloves or banning blows to the head. Furthermore, revenue from underground fights often goes undeclared, which does not benefit taxpayers. It is in our collective interest to recognize the popularity of these sports and to legalize them to ensure better regulations.

The popularity of mixed martial arts is exploding and will produce huge economic spinoffs for Canada. Quebec's Georges St-Pierre, who is one of the most popular fighters in the world and is the Ultimate Fighting Championship world champion, draws big crowds and models the professionalism and skill of Canadian athletes. I attended his last UFC fight, and I can attest to the people's infatuation for him and the sport.

Tom Wright, director of operations in Canada, recently told La Presse that ticket revenues from UFC 154 in Montreal were the third-highest this year, after Las Vegas and Calgary. He also said that Canada is the second-largest market for UFC, behind the United States. However, considering the difference in population, Canada has the most mixed martial arts fans per capita, ahead of countries like the United States and Brazil.

UFC fights organized in Canada have generated tens of millions of dollars in revenues for our country. Furthermore, 25% of the people watching these events on television are Canadian. Most of the highest-grossing UFC events have been held in Canada, once again demonstrating the popularity of the sport. On top of that, we have all the direct and indirect spinoffs, such as the GST and the tourists who come to Canada and spend a lot of money to attend these fights. They bring in tens of millions of dollars, which makes this sport a major tourist attraction and economic driver.

I would like to point out that UFC has only come to Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Considering the growing popularity of mixed martial arts, organizers are now turning to cities like Ottawa, Quebec City and Winnipeg. Needless to say, the more competitions we have in Canada, the more direct and indirect revenues we will see, especially thanks to the many tourists who will travel here to see them.

The sport is becoming increasingly popular, and it is likely that the economic spinoffs from this sport will quickly increase in the years to come, in light of this sport's growing popularity. Bill S-209 will support both fans and organizers, which will help improve the Canadian economy.

For all these reasons, I support this bill, which will add more combative sports to the list of exceptions to the prize fighting offences. This list is currently limited to boxing. Bill S-209 will help provide better regulation for these sports, which are widely practised in Canada, and will give the provinces the tools they need to regulate them. These regulations will help reduce the risk of injury and will discourage people from participating in underground fights.

Since the popularity of combative sports is growing, they are economically viable. There is no reason not to modernize the Criminal Code to reflect this new reality. That is why I support this bill and hope that my colleagues will do the same.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

November 23rd, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in favour of Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

I would like to begin by noting that Bill S-209 is a private member's bill that was introduced in the other place by Senator Runciman. It proposes to amend section 83 of the Criminal Code. Currently, section 83 makes it a summary conviction offence to engage in a prize fight, to promote a prize fight or to attend a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter. Section 83 then carves out exceptions to the prize fighting offence for certain amateur boxing contests and for certain professional boxing contests.

The exception for an amateur boxing contest arises if each glove used meets the minimum weight of 140 grams. An amateur boxing contest where the gloves to be used do not meet the minimum weight specified in section 83 of the Criminal Code can still be excepted from the prize fighting offence if the province issues a licence for the contest. Similarly, any professional boxing contest is exempted from the section 83 prize fighting offence if the province issues a licence for the contest.

Bill S-209 contains proposals to extend the exemption in section 83 for amateur boxing contests to cover other amateur combative sport contests, including contests in sports such as judo, karate, tae kwon do, kick-boxing and mixed martial arts. Bill S-209 would also clarify that the exemption in section 83 which covers professional boxing contests would include professional mixed martial arts contests.

It is important to underscore that Bill S-209 contemplates provincial decision making with respect to both amateur exceptions and the professional exceptions to prize fights that are found in Bill S-209.

First, I will speak about the amateur combative sport contest aspect of Bill S-209 and then I will turn to the professional boxing and professional mixed martial contest aspect of the bill.

The reforms to the amateur prize fighting provisions of the Criminal Code found in Bill S-209 replicate those that were found in former government Bill C-31 introduced during the second session of the 40th Parliament, which died on the order paper. However, Bill C-31 proposed reforms only to the amateur prize fighting aspect of section 83 of the Criminal Code. Former Bill C-31 did not propose to extend current exemptions to the prize fighting offence for a professional boxing contest that held a licence from the province to any other professional combative sport contest.

Bill S-209 would extend the exemption for amateur prize fights in a way that would respect provincial decision making.

First, it would allow any amateur combative sport event in a sport that is on the Olympic or Paralympic program. If the province chooses, it can require that the Olympic or Paralympic combative sport contest obtain a licence from the province.

Second, Bill S-209 would make an exception to the prize fight offence for any amateur sport contest that would be on a list of designated amateur combative sports by the province and the province could choose to require that a licence is necessary for the designated amateur combative sport contest.

Third, Bill S-209 would make an exception for any other amateur combative sport contest for which a province had chosen to grant a licence.

As I have said, these amendments for amateur exceptions to the prize fighting offence were found in the government's previous bill, Bill C-31. They reflected consultations between federal and provincial officials at a time when professional mixed martial arts had not developed to the point where it is today in terms of its fan base and its rules.

Turning to the current professional boxing exemption from the section 83 prize fighting offence, Bill S-209 would clarify that a professional mixed martial arts contest that was licensed by a province would be an exception to the prize fighting offence in section 83 of the Criminal Code. British Columbia has requested that the code be amended to clarify any doubt in the matter. I note that there are other provinces, for example, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, which have licensed professional mixed martial arts contests as professional boxing contests. Bill S-209 would bring clarity in respect of professional mixed martial arts contests.

The professional exception in Bill S-209 does not extend to professional combative sports other than professional boxing and professional mixed martial arts. Perhaps this is because these two professional combative sports have television coverage and it does not appear that any other combative sports are on the verge of developing in Canada a professional aspect with such a fan base and television coverage.

We can see that where Bill S-209 would contemplate licensing, it is a provincial licensing that is identified. Bill S-209 would not try to go around the province by exempting a prize fight licensed by a municipality, for example, because a municipality is in fact the creation of a provincial legislature. If a province wished to establish a municipal body as a licensing body, it could choose to do so, but it would be for the province to decide.

As I noted earlier, the amendments to section 83 of the Criminal Code would respect provincial decision-making in the area of permitted exceptions to the prize-fighting offence. In my view, the provinces are best placed to determine public acceptance of combative sports within the range set by the Criminal Code. No province would be forced to permit an amateur combative sport or to license a professional boxing contest or a professional mixed martial arts contest. The province might decide that it did not want to permit any or all of these contests, and if such were the case, the province would not be obligated to license them.

Provinces are also best placed to determine what rules and safety measures they want to see in place prior to having a combative sport contest occur in their jurisdiction. With professional mixed martial arts, there has been tremendous development over the past decades, both in terms of fan support in Canada and the rules of the sport. There is a medical doctor who now decides when a fight should stop, rather than the referee or the coach. There are rules related to striking and holds that are barred. There are rules that permit an athlete to tap an opponent on the mat, which are not present in professional boxing, for example.

The reforms in Bill S-209 regarding amateur combative sports and professional mixed martial arts are long awaited. The amendments in Bill S-209 would modernize the amateur combative sport contest exceptions in section 83 of the Criminal Code. They would also clarify that a province could license a professional mixed martial arts contest as an exception to the prize-fighting offence in section 83 of the Criminal Code.

I urge all members to support Bill S-209.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

November 23rd, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill is basically a housekeeping bill to bring this section of the Criminal Code more up-to-date with today's times. The last time this section was updated was in 1934.

This change will affect close to 100,000 Canadians who practise combat sports, not necessarily all at a professional level. Some are at the amateur level. We are not only talking about mixed martial arts. Some of the sports are recognized by the International Olympic Committee, such as karate, judo and tae kwon do. The bill tries to ensure that participants in all of these sports will be governed under a safe environment so that they will not considered to be doing so illegally under the current provisions.

I am hoping that Bill S-209 will merely correct this oversight so that Canada can effectively regulate acceptable combat sports openly. Seeing how the bill is not controversial and is a sensible piece of legislation that clearly addresses a blind spot in the Criminal Code, I look forward to seeing the bill passed and sent expeditiously to committee.

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

October 18th, 2012 / 10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).

This legislation seeks to amend the Criminal Code by expanding the list of permitted sports under the prize fighting provisions. This change to Canada's prize fighting laws is long overdue.

Mixed martial arts have come a long way as a sport in the past 20 years. Their safety record is admirable, their product is popular throughout Canada and worldwide, and the list of Canadians like Georges St-Pierre who excel at this sport is constantly growing.

I am proud to do my part as a member of Parliament to modernize our laws, since this particular part of the Criminal Code has not been updated since 1934.

Currently, close to 100,000 Canadians who practice combat sports, some of these sports are recognized by the International Olympic committee, such as judo and tae kwon do, can be considered to doing so illegally under the current provisions of the Criminal Code. Bill S-209 would merely correct this oversight so that Canada can effectively regulate acceptable combat sports openly.

Seeing as how this bill is non-controversial and is a sensible piece of legislation that clearly addresses a blind spot in the Criminal Code, I look forward to seeing the bill passed expeditiously with the support and co-operation of all members.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)