I had a great time attending the BC Open Martial Arts Championships this past weekend. It was a competitive event and I was particularly proud watching my oldest son’s spirited effort demonstrating his Karate forms and my youngest son winning gold in point sparring. Martial Arts have done much for the positive growth of my children through the lessons of competition and self development. It’s a shame that the event is illegal. How can this be so when Karate contests are commonplace? Amateur martial arts competitions exist in a legal black hole where they are technically illegal but the authorities simply choose to turn a blind eye instead of addressing this legal gap. Here’s why –
Section 83 of the Canadian Criminal Code makes all ‘prize fighting’ illegal. Despite what the name suggests, participants need not be paid to run afoul of the law. A prize fight is defined as any”encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them”. (A definition so broad that even sports like wrestling are likely caught by the language). The only exceptions made for amateur contests are limited to “boxing” contests.
But this law is being amended and that will fix the problem, right? Wrong. While the Federal Government is expected to overhaul Section 83 by passing Bill S-209, this will not address the illegality of amateur martial arts contests. The reason being that once Bill S-209 is passed amateur martial arts contests will remain illegal unless the sport is on the programme of the International Olympic Committee (most martial arts, including Karate, Kickboxing and MMA are not), or if the sport is designated by or held with the specific permission of the Provincial authorities.
Currently no BC legislation exists setting out a list of designated or permitted amateur contests.
But the BC Athletic Commissioner Act has been passed, that will address this right? Wrong. The BC Athletic Commissioner Act comes into force on May 31 however it will only be limited to the regulation of professional boxing and Mixed Martial Arts contests. The gap on the amateur side will remain.
With this legal gap one of three realities will exist. Amateur Karate and other martial arts contests (including Mixed Martial Arts) will remain illegal and the Government will either
1. Keep the status quo and ignore the law choosing to not prosecute offenders under Section 83 of the Criminal Code
2. Only selectively enforce the law when a specific case calls public attention for the need to do so
3. Enforce the law and shut down any amateur martial arts contests
None of these options are desireable. So what can we do? The Province of BC needs to pass meaningful legislation setting out a comprehensive list of what amateur fighting contests are legal, set standards for participant safety and ensure that a legal framework exists to permit the positive growth of BC’s martial arts community without the shadow of the criminal code hanging over them.