Canadian MP’s Calls Out CMA’s Thin Opposition to Bill S-209

Last month I highlighted the Canadian Medical Association’s vocal opposition to Bill S-209.  This, despite the organization admitting “we don’t have a lot of research available yet as to the rate and severity of the injuries” and further that “we don’t know the rates of the injuries …but my argument is any injury is too much”. 

The lack of substance behind this opposition was called out by Canadian Member of Parliament Francouse Boivin who provided the following critical comments to the CMA’s opposition –

In your presentation, Dr. Reid, you made it clear that you weren’t a lawyer. But what the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is trying to determine is whether it is still appropriate for the Criminal Code to qualify the practice of a certain sport as a crime when, in reality, it is not treated as such. The criminal aspect has been completely overlooked for some time now…

We may be dealing with some hypocrisy here. And I’m not referring to your position but to the fact that the practice is criminalized in the Criminal Code. In your opening remarks, you made a statement that also appears in the notes you provided:

For parliamentarians, and for society, the question of whether to legalize MMA under the Criminal Code therefore comes down to a choice: A choice between money and health.

That comment bothered me a bit, for the simple reason that the issue has nothing to do with that in my opinion. Nor is it a matter of legalizing something. You talk about legalizing MMA, but we’re actually talking about decriminalizing an activity, not legalizing it. The provinces and territories can put certain rules in place, but that doesn’t mean the passage of Bill S-209 would legalize the practice. All it would do is decriminalize an activity that, in actual fact, has not been treated as a crime for quite some time.

That is the reality of Bill S-209. As my colleague Mr. Seeback pointed out, your opposition is based on the intent of the sport. In other words, the foot and elbow strikes dealt directly to a participant’s head during mixed martial arts, or MMA, matches make this activity different from other sports. My understanding, then, is whether it happens in boxing or MMA, you’re against it as a matter of policy, as doctors.

However, when two hockey players decide to fight during a game, taking off their helmets and gloves so they can punch each other freely in the face, it is clear to me there’s an intent there as well. Therefore, I imagine you would like to go as far as to ban fighting in hockey, adding it to your policy on boxing and MMA.

Unless I am mistaken, you’re position applies to all cases where an individual uses a body part to strike another person’s head on purpose. The head is the main issue for you, is it not?

MP Massimo Pacetti also provided the following feedback –

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.

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