The Legality of MMA in Yellowknife and the Canadian Territories

image canadian territories mma law

The City of Yellowknife has a long history of hosting and regulating combat sport events including Mixed Martial Arts.  Despite this history, can the City legally regulate MMA events given the newly amended section 83 of the Criminal Code?

As previously discussed, section 83 makes professional MMA illegal by default in all of Canada unless the contest is “held in a province 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.”

At first glance, this very specifically worded limitation appears to only give Canadian Provinces, not Territories, the ability to legalize MMA.  There is a clear legal distinction between the two.  However, looking at section 35 of the Canadian Interpretation Act the definition of Province when used in an enactment “includes Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut”  and the definition of “legislature” includes”the Lieutenant Governor in Council and the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, as constituted before September 1, 1905, the Legislature of Yukon, the Commissioner in Council of the Northwest Territories, and the Legislature for Nunavut.

So, after this roundabout exercise it is clear that section 83 does in fact allow the Canadian Territories to legalize MMA if they so choose.

Turning the focus specifically to Yellowknife, the City has passed Bylaw N0. 4396 creating an athletic commission with powers to regulate MMA.  As with Cities in Alberta, Yellowknife purports to obtain the power to create such a commission from general language contained in Provincial / Territorial legislation.  In creating their commission the City of Yellowknife relies on Section 70(1)(h) of the Cities, Towns and Villages act which gives it the authority to “make by-laws for municipal purposes respecting programs, services, infrastructure and facilities provided or operated by or on behalf of the municipal corporation“.  It is unclear whether such a general provision actually gives a local government such as Yellowknife the ability to regulate MMA in compliance with the Criminal Code.

Alberta seems content with such an interpretation although section 535 of Alberta’s Municipal Government Act strongly implies such a power.  The Northwest Territories law does not have a similar provision.  If the Yellowknife Commission’s powers were ever challenged by the government of the Northwest Territories the Commission’s existence would likely be in peril as was demonstrated by Saskatchewan’s recent actions.  If the Territorial government does not want to play their trump card and is ok with the City’s interpretation of their powers then the Commission likely has legal authority to do what it does.

Moving on from this hurdle, both amateur and professional MMA appear to be legal in Yellowknife.   The Commission has statutory powers to oversee all “regulated sports” which are defined as follows:

 professional boxing, professional wrestling, mixed martial arts, full contact karate, kickboxing, muay thai and all sports that hold contests between opponents involving striking with hand, feet, knees or elbows, grappling, submission or take downs.

This language does not limit the Commission to only professional MMA but to all MMA.  Section 6(d) of the Bylaw goes on to adopt “the rules and regulations set by the Nevada State Athletic Commission“.  A copy of these can be found here.  So the short answer is both professional and amateur MMA appear to be legal in Yellowknife under the watch of the local athletic commission so long as the Northwest Territories Government does not override the City’s powers to regulate combat sports.


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