Ontario BJJ Tournament Plays a Game of Legal Chicken With the Province

Update July 22, 2017 – This tournament went off without a hitch.  Accounts from Facebook show that not only did the local city police not press any charges they were even in attendance and posed for this photo.

Photo Toronto Police

This is an interesting scenario with the Province saying BJJ contests are presently illegal and with Toronto Police disagreeing and not following this position.

As discussed below, unless section 83 is reworded to clarify matters or the judiciary provides a binding position the application of the criminal code to grappling contests will remain legally grey.


A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament is scheduled on July 22, 2017.

NExtGen BJJ Screenshot

The NextGen BJJ Toronto Invitational is scheduled to take place in the Provincial capitol.  Normally this would be unremarkable however the Province has recently taken the position that the sport is an illegal ‘prizefight’ under the framework set by section 83 of the Criminal Code.

The Province has yet to approve a Provincial Sporting Organization to oversee BJJ and have taken the position that, until this changes, the sport is illegal with authorities noting as follows:

Ontario PSO Warning

The Government’s position that section 83 of the Criminal Code can apply to grappling contests is legally untested.  They may be right.  They may be wrong.  Unless and until the judiciary weighs in on the matter either through judicial review or in a criminal prosecution the law will remain unclear.

A strong argument exits, however, that the Province is overstepping their bounds by attempting to apply the criminal code to grappling contests.  As previously noted, the Senator that wrote the current version of section 83 stated, when the Bill was being debated, that it was not intended to apply to grappling with the following blunt exchange contained in Hansard transcripts

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.


It is noteworthy that these answers are in direct response to questions from Ontario politicians so it would be unfortunate if Courts were prepared to expand the criminal code beyond the lawmaker’s intentions.  Senator Runciman went so far as to call such an outcome unconceivable.

In any event, a game of legal chicken is underway.

While I can’t encourage anyone to break the law, my offer remains open that should anyone in Ontario (or Quebec, another jurisdiction that is seeking to exapnd s. 83 to grappling events) be criminally charged I will, if asked, work with your local lawyer free of charge to help navigate this legal landscape.



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