The Dubious Legality of MMA in Moncton

Moncton Boxing Commission Logo

Update October 5, 2013 – The City of Moncton has now pulled the Commission’s ability to oversee MMA, Muay Thai and Kickboxing.

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Although the City of Moncton has an established Athletic Commission with the power to regulate and oversee both amateur and professional MMA events, the Commission’s blessing may not be enough to get participants around Canada’s Criminal Code.

When analyzing the legality of MMA in any given jurisdiction in Canada the first stop is section 83 of the Criminal Code which makes the sport illegal by default.  To comply with the section a professional contest must be “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.

For an amateur MMA event to be legal the event must be held with the permission or with the designation “by the province’s lieutenant governor in council or by any other person or body specified by him or her” in compliance with Section 83(2)or(3) of the Criminal Code.  In other words, there has to be appropriate Provincial legislation creating the regulatory framework for the sport.

So what’s wrong in the case of Moncton?

The Moncton Boxing and Wrestling Commission derives their powers from Moncton Bylaw H-510.  This law creates the Commission and gives them the power to oversee various combat sports including professional and amateur MMA.  The problem, however, is there does not appear to be any Provincial enactment giving the City the power to pass such a law.  In legal terms, getting around the Criminal Code is arguably ‘ultra vires’ the City’s powers.

The ability of local governments to regulate MMA is a tricky subject when Provincial legislation is silent on the point.  Looking at other jurisdictions helps illustrate this.  While it is true that Alberta has a host of municipal commissions, there is a strong argument that they have obtained their power “under the authority of the province’s legislature” through Alberta’s Municipal Government Act which, in addition to the general powers it gives municipalities, strongly implies they have the power to regulate combat sports by the wording of section 535 which reads as follows:

Protection of sporting commissions 
535.1(1) In this section, “commission” means a commission 
established by bylaw for controlling and regulating any of the 
following: 
(a) boxing; 
(b) wrestling; 
(c) full contact karate;

(d) kickboxing; 

(e) any other sport that holds contests where opponents strike 
each other with a hand, foot, knee, elbow or other part of 
the body. 

(2) A commission and its members, officers, employees and any 
volunteers and officials performing duties under the direction of 
any of them are not liable for anything said or done or omitted to 
be done in good faith in the performance or intended performance 
of their functions, duties or powers under this Act or any other 
enactment. 
(3) Subsection (2) is not a defence if the cause of action is 
defamation.

The New Brunswick Provincial law does not contain a similar provision.  At best it appears the City of Moncton can try to rely on the general powers they have through the Municipalities Act or the Moncton Consolidation Act to regulate MMA.  When a city in Saskatchewan tried the same thing the Province was quick to shut down the effort stating the City law would not comply with the Criminal Code.

I have reached out to the Moncton Boxing and Wrestling Commission inviting them to point out any Provincial enactment that gives the City the power to oversee this sport.  As of the writing of this article they have not replied.

Clear Provincial legislation is strongly desired to give certainty to MMA and other combat sports participants.  The Provincial Government should do so and take away this legal ambiguity and uncertainty.  New Brunswick would be well served to either create a province wide commission or to pass the appropriate laws to make it clear that Municipalities indeed have the power to regulate the sport in compliance with section 83 of the Criminal Code.

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