Are Grappling Events Caught By Section 83 of Canada’s Criminal Code?

One question that is yet to be judicially tested is whether grappling competitions are illegal under Section 83 of Canada’s Criminal Code.

We know that amateur wrestling and judo contests are legal, unless Provinces pass laws to the contrary, as these are caught by the “Olympic Sport” exemptions in section 83(2)(a) of the Code.  But what about other grappling events such a a submission Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament?  Would these run afoul of the Criminal Code without a Provincial framework in place?  An argument can be made either way.

As a starting point, section 83 prohibits all prize fights that don’t meet the exemptions in the Criminal Code, with prize fights being defined as “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“.

Eliminating striking likely doesn’t exempt the Criminal Code from being triggered because of the inclusion of the word “or”.  Using “or” instead of “and” means the illegal encounter can allow “fists” or “hands” or “feet” to be used.  It is not a stretch to say that a submission grappling contest without strikes is still an encounter with hands or feet.

BC, to take one Province, appears to view grappling as being captured under section 83 and have passed an Order in Council allowing both ‘grappling‘ and ‘jiu jitsu‘ contests to be held without violating the Criminal Code.

New Brunswick’s combat sports bill, on the other hand, also appears to view grappling contests as being captured by the Criminal Code but does not include any non-Olympic grappling sports under their list of “prescribed” combat sports.

Some other Provinces have simply not addressed the situation leading to a lack of unanimity across Canada whether Section 83 is intended to capture grappling events.

On the other side of the coin, an argument can be made that section 83 was never intended to cover grappling events.  As discussed with the uncertainty surrounding the legality of professional kickboxing in Canada, when legislation is not clear on its face Courts can look at the intent of the law.  In doing so Court’s often look to legislative debate surrounding the law.  Interestingly, when the application of Bill S-209 to grappling was discussed the following exchange took place among lawmakers:


Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Senator Runciman, I have an e-mail from a gentleman who’s in my riding from the Ontario Grappling Alliance. Of course, I wasn’t even aware there was an Ontario Grappling Alliance until I received the e-mail, but I’m going to ask you and Mr. Pacetti as well. He seems to believe or has received some advice that because of the changes in this legislation, grappling will now fall into a non-legal status.

My review of the legislation indicates that if it was legal before, it’s still going to be legal; if it was illegal before, then it may or may not still be illegal, but it was illegal to begin with. I don’t see how this legislation would affect grappling and the Ontario Grappling Alliance.

3:45 p.m.

Ontario (Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes), CPC

Senator Bob Runciman

No, I don’t know either. That issue, not specifically with grappling, came up during the hearings. There is no known sport that does not use fists, hands, or feet. There was talk about naming specific sports. That could create problems, if new hybrid sports come on the scene in the coming years.

I think his fears can be allayed and that he will be safe under this change in the legislation.

3:45 p.m.

Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

3:45 p.m.

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

As a non-lawyer, my opinion is that we’re just adding something; we’re not deleting. The bill is just adding “feet” to the Criminal Code, so I don’t see what the issue would be.


Although a strong argument can be made that s. 83 does capture non-Olymoic grappling contests by virtue of the plain reading of the prize fight definition, the above exchange brings some uncertainty to the equation.  Provinces wold be wise to address the situation with legislative clarity addressing what contests are legal and how, if at all, they must be sanctioned.  Silence leads to uncertainty.


4 thoughts on “Are Grappling Events Caught By Section 83 of Canada’s Criminal Code?

  1. I contacted the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport here in Quebec, and they told me that amateur MMA, kickboxing are illegal. I then asked to assume grappling competitions are considered illegal too, and the response was “yes” . Crazy stuff

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