Prize Fighting Prosecutions and Combat Sports in Canada

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When an unlawful combat sports event takes place in Canada typically prosecutions will take one of two forms, either pursuant to Section 83 of the Criminal Code for being unlawful ‘prize fights’ or under various Provincial or Municipal legislation involving unsanctioned combat sport events.

Since section 83 of the Criminal Code was overhauled by Bill S-209 there have not been any prosecutions under the the new section so to get things started I will address historic prosecutions.  These have been few and far between with the two most prominent cases being R v. Jay Chang and R v. M.A.F.A.

In the above cases the Defendants were hosting an MMA contest and a Kickboxing contest respectively.  These were held without regulatory oversight by a Provincial or Municipal Athletic Commission.   In both cases a defense was raised that the events were a form of amateur boxing and therefore exempt from prosecution.  The Courts disagreed noting that a traditional definition of boxing will apply when determining whether a prize fight run afoul of the Criminal Code.  (Note – under the new section 83 there are more amateur sports besides boxing which may be exempted absent Provincial intervention ).  In reaching this decision Judge Brien repeated and adopted the reasoning in R. M.A.F.A. and provided the following reasons:

Both exclusions under s. 83(2) are based upon the definition of ‘boxing contests’.  In M.A.F.A. Inc. supra, Kastner J. reviewed several dictionary definitions of ‘boxing contest’ to find the ordinary meaning of the term, concluding as follows:

[34] “ The dictionary definitions seem to confine ‘boxing’ to a sport practised generally with fists, often gloved, and illustrated primarily with blows above the waist.” 

[35] The fact that all combatants wore boxing gloves is not determinative….”

After determining that the term was unambiguous in light of the purpose and goals of s. 83, that is to protect the health of the contestants, he stated:

“[42] If Parliament had intended “boxing” to mean

“boxing by fists and other boxing-type maneuvers in the nature of boxing”. s. 83 would be drafted to reflect that.  Defence counsel urges the Court to keep in mind that Muay Thai (Muay meaning “boxing” in the Thai language) is a sport originating in Thailand centuries ago, and that the Court ought not to apply North American standards in interpreting this section of the Criminal Code.  However, the drafters of the Code were undoubtedly familiar with the Greco-Roman origins of the sport, the same root as Canadian boxing, but came to the conclusion that public welfare and order required some limitations to or protections associated with the sport which could best be dealt with by each province.  The title “Fall Brawl” does not immediately bring to mind a sparring match with gloves under Queensbury or similar rules as an exhibition of skill and without any intention to fight until one is incapacitated by injury or exhaustion.

[para43]     The concept of exempting boxing contests between amateur sportsmen where the contestants wear boxing gloves of a certain weight has a clear meaning.  Parliament intended to criminally sanction the actions of every person who promotes a prize fight which is not sanctioned by the regulation of a commission or body appointed by the province, which would ensure reasonable standards of safety for all participants, unless it was an amateur boxing contest, where the boxing gloves of the requisite mass would protect the pugilists from serious harm.

[para44] In sum, “boxing contest” is to be given its ordinary meaning, since the ordinary meaning of the words is consistent with the context in which the words are used and with the object of the Act.  Thus, that is the interpretation, which should govern.”

With this analysis, I am in agreement.  Clearly this subject event was not a ‘boxing contest’ as referred to in s. 83.  Further, while a particular province might, if it wished, proceed to deem it to be such and establish a licencing body, New Brunswick has not.  For these reason, the event does not fall within the exclusions.  

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