Pat Reid Voices Concerns that Bill S-209 Leaves Other Martial Arts in the Dark

I have been vocal in my support that while amending the Criminal Code to allow a legal framework for MMA in Canada is a good thing, Bill S-209 is not without its flaws.  Specifically it will make many amateur martial arts contests such as Karate and potentially even wrestling illegal by default unless Provinces act.

I am not the only supporter of legal MMA that has concerns about Bill S-209’s language.  Pat Reid, the Executive Director of the ECSC, is being vocal about a further shortcoming of Bill S-209 as it relates to “professional” contests.  Mr. Reid has recently written to all MP’s telling them in essence that they should get this overhaul right and not leave other marital arts in the dark.  Pat has provided me with a copy of his letter and allowed me to republish it here.  Below is its full text:

To the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights:

The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission (ECSC) would like to raise a significant issue with the wording of Bill S-209 as it relates to professional combat sports.  It is the ECSC’s understanding that the policy intent of the Bill, as it relates to professional combat sports is that it means to modernize the Criminal Code of Canada’s approach to “prizefighting” by expressly permitting the types of professional combat sports that take place in Canada today, when regulated by a commission or athletic board created under provincial law.  These types of sports include the sport of boxing, the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), and also the sport of kick boxing, the sport of Muay Thai kickboxing and the sport of Tae-kwon-do. 

As currently drafted, paragraph (2) (d) in the Bill, (which deals with professional combat sports) specifically adds the one sport of MMA to boxing as a sport that can be regulated by a commission or board and which would not be contrary to the Criminal Code.  

In the past, there has been uncertainty about whether the meaning of boxing is broad enough to include MMA, kick boxing, Muay Thai and Tae-kwon-do.  It appears the policy intent of the Bill in relation to professional combat sports was to remedy this uncertainty by specifically providing that other combat sports regulated by a commission were not contrary to the Criminal Code.

This broad approach is apparent in sections (2) (a) through (c) in the Bill in relation to amateur combat sports where a broad descriptive approach describing combat with fists, hands or feet is used to define permissible amateur combat sports.

In paragraph (2) (d), by specifically naming only the sport of boxing and the sport of MMA, we are concerned that the specific list excludes other combat sports, namely the sport of kick boxing, the sport of Muay Thai and the sport of Tae-kwon-do that are happening at the professional level, regulated by Canadian commissions today. 

This argument is strengthened by comparison with the broad approach to defining combat sorts in relation to amateur events in paragraphs (2) (a) through (c).

The ECSC is concerned that this result is not the intended result of the amendment to the Criminal Code and will result in professional combat sports other than boxing and MMA being driven underground and professional events being dressed up as amateur and operated without regulation by the Athletic Commissions.  This puts the safety of fighters at risk.  The question we ask is simply: “what is the policy intent?”

It is important to understand that the one particular sport that has been recommended to be added – mixed martial arts- is not a “collection” of combative sports – it is ONE specific sport.  It is one specific sport with its own set of rules.  It is a relatively new and very popular sport, but it still is only ONE sport.  It does not serve as an umbrella description that would include the other professional combat sports currently regulated today.

Other professional combative martial arts sports have been occurring with regularity long before the new sport of mixed martial arts arrived on the scene – sports including full contact karate, kickboxing, Muay Thai and Tae-kwon-do (which is not only recognized by the Canadian Ministry of Sport in Heritage Canada, it is an Olympic sport with men’s and women’s events contested by Canadians presently.)  Each of those professional combative sports also has its own rules.

The best analogy I can offer to illustrate the problem with the proposed amendment as it currently is written – is that it is presumed to be a solution to provide regulation for all ball sports (the analogy that “all sports that utilize a ball” are equal to “all combative sports”). But by adding only one sport (say football, to use the ball sport analogy) you exclude softball, baseball, soccer – in other words the other ball sports.) Football has its own rules and you can’t pretend that football rules can somehow be stretched to cover baseball, soccer, softball, etc. (the other ball sports).

Mixed martial arts, even though it sounds plural because of the “s”, actually is only ONE sport (like football) with specific rules. So, to continue with the analogy, when someone approaches a provincial Commission with a request to hold a softball (kick boxing) event, and only football  (MMA) has been allowed as a result of the current wording in the amendment – the Commission can’t pretend to permit the softball (kick boxing) event can occur as though it were football (MMA) and apply the rules from football (MMA) to cover it.  

Instead, the Commission must advise the softball (kick boxing) promoter that they cannot hold softball events any longer — the government has decided this by adding only the singular sport of mixed martial arts (football) (and its specific rules) and none of these other ball sports (combat sports) with their specific rules are included in the legislation.

I would ask that you reconsider the current recommendation of just adding this one new (and latest) sport of professional mixed martial arts.  Other professional combative sports that have a much longer history that are already being held across the country, would suddenly be left unregulated because this legislation does not contemplate or allow for their regulation.

As Bill S-209 is drafted, a provincial or municipal Athletic Commission would not be able to regulate any professional combat sport other than the singular sport of boxing and the singular sport of MMA.  If a Commission were to interpret MMA to include Muay Thai, and apply Muay Thai rules, regulation by that Commission would be contrary to the Criminal Code.  If a fighter were to suffer a severe injury such as a brain injury in a Muay Thai event, the Commission would likely be negligent.  

So the question remains – what is the policy intent of the proposed amendment?  If you were to ask Commissions in this country that regulate these combative sports events you would hear us say (as we advised in the Senate Hearings on this Bill) that we need to ensure we can regulate in accordance with the Criminal Code of Canada and that we are seeking clarity.  We need to be able to regulate for the safety of the fighters in all of the disciplines of combative sport that are being regulated today. 

We hope we can all take a step back and allow the government policy writers to find the right wording to cover “all the combative sports disciplines that involve striking and grappling”. These are the combative sports that are recognized, and currently regulated, by the respective provincial combative sports commission” jurisdictions – sports that need to be captured in the legislation for the safety of the fighters. 

We advocate a broader approach, rather than just amending the Criminal Code by specifically adding one additional sport and in the process excluding all the other combative sports.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission on behalf of the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, with support from other combative sports commissions in Canada.  I hope this explanation assists a fuller understanding of our view of the regulatory and safety implications of this important issue with Bill S-209.

 Respectfully submitted, 

Pat Reid, Executive Director

Edmonton Combative Sports Commission

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