Joel asked me whether, in my view, Bill S-209 will have the effect of criminalizing fighting in hockey and other non-combat sports. The short answer is no. I asked his permission to share our exchange on this blog and he kindly agreed. Here is part of our discussion –
I am curious if you have given any thought on how the new s-209 will affect other sports such as fighting in the NHL. With an updated law that is more clear in regards to amateur and professional prize fighting do you anticipate this being applied to NHL or any other professional sports that have a certain amount of fighting in it?
My reply was as follows –
I don’t think the Prize Fighting provision of the Criminal Code, as it stands or as it will be amended under S-209, will do anything with respect to fighting in the NHL or similar leagues. The reason being the crime of prizefighting relates to an “”encounter or fight with fists or hands (or feet as will be added by S-209) between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them” “
The key provision being the “previous arrangement made by or for them”. Unless it is expressly agreed that a fight is going to take place at an event ahead of time I don’t see this provision being applicable. The authorities seem to reserve criminal prosecutions for NHL events for severe incidents such as the Brashear/McSorely affair. I don’t expect there to be any prosecutions for run of the mill hockey fights following this bill’s passing.
After this exchange, I looked into Parliament of Canada’s Hansard transcripts which is one of the best sources to reference when seeking insight into the intent of a law. Among the various useful discussions were several comments which strengthen the view that Parliament has no intent in having Bill S-209 extend to incidental fights in non-combat sports.
Liberal MP Sean Casey states as follows:
“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.”
Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti had the following comments:
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.