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.