I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the now overhauled section 83 of the Canadian Criminal Code and the difficulties this creates for amateur MMA throughout Canada.
Appreciating that the default, absent Provincial intervention, is that Amateur MMA is illegal in Canada, can a promoter get around this exception by hosting an “exhibition” fight?
Probably not. Section 83 contains a broadly worded prohibition. While the law allows greater flexibility for amateur contests than for professional bouts there is no special leeway for “exhibitions“. Here’s the breakdown of what you need to look at to find out if you’re running afoul of the law:
1. Are you dealing with” 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“? This is an expansive prohibition designed to catch basically any combat event.
If your event is captured by this language the starting point is the event is illegal. It makes no difference whether the “encounter or fight” is professional, amateur, exhibition or otherwise. The starting point is it is illegal. It also makes no difference what type of a combat sport you are dealing with, be it Karate, Boxing, MMA, etc., the initial analysis catches all such ‘encounters‘. If you are caught under this broad language you then look at whether one of the four ways to avoid criminality apply. These exceptions are as follows:
1. Is the “encounter or fight” being held “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 for the control of sport within the province.” If so you are ok.
The real shortcoming with this exception, however, is that most Provincial commissions have no legislative authority to deal with amateur contests so these “encounters or fights” cannot presently be licensed. Provinces are free to change this. Section 83(2)(d) of the Criminal Code also limits the authority of such commissions to licence only “a boxing contest or mixed martial arts contest“. There is a live issue about whether any non-amateur encounters outside of MMA and Boxing can be Provincially licensed.
2. Is it an Amateur Contest? If so there are three more outs from criminality. These are:
a. The sport is on the programme of the International Olympic Committee or the International Paralympic Committee (MMA is not).
b. The sport has been designated by the province’s lieutenant governor; or
c. The event is held with the permission of the province’s lieutenant governor in council.
Presently there is no across the board exception for amateur contests. The federal government has passed the buck to the Provinces. Provinces will likely be filling in the gaps in the upcoming months (or choosing not to). In the meantime, don’t get cute and try to avoid the criminal code by calling a fight an ‘exhibition‘. This label will be of no assistance.