The Questionable Legality of “Ice Wars”

There is no shortage of combat sports promoters trying to invent new gimmicks to catch the public’s interest. Enter “Ice Wars”. Hockey fights without the hockey. In MMA gloves.

The above clip is from an event that took place today at the River Cree Resort and Casino. Located in Alberta, Canada on land owned by the Enoch Cree Nation. Presumably the Nation had an Athletic Commission overseeing the regulation of the event. So it would be legal, right? Not necessarily.

There are two reasons why the answer may be no. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the legalities in play.

Canada’s Criminal Code outlaws all ‘prize fights’ (basically pre arranged fights unlike a spontaneous fight that may occur in a hockey game) and then sets out the framework for exceptions to this default position. When it comes to ‘professional’ prize fights the Code only mentions two sports that can be allowed. Boxing and MMA. There is past precedent interpreting ‘boxing’ in the Criminal Code as meaning the sport as envisioned under the Queensbury Rules making a bout like this one arguably outside the scope of what could be permitted as a variant of boxing.

No Canadian Court, to my knowledge, has yet interpreted MMA. MMA has no universal ruleset. With variations as far as some US jurisdictions calling bare knuckle boxing a type of MMA. Some Provinces and their Athletic Commissions interprets MMA as also including all the component sports that make up MMA (for example this is how BC went on to legalize pro kickboxing). You would be hard pressed to say hockey fights are one of the underlying combat sports that make up MMA. If a Court refused to find that hockey fights, as a stand alone combat sport, is neither boxing or MMA then such an event would violate the Criminal Code.

Alberta itself is unique as well. The Criminal Code says that for pro boxing or MMA to be legalized it must be done so “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.” Alberta has no such body.  Instead Alberta has legislation that implies municipalities can hold such events.  It is questionable whether this complies with the Criminal Code’s strict requirements.  Assuming it does it is unique as it is the only place in North America that breaks down oversight on a municipal level.  Making an already scattered regulatory picture even more scattered.

With First Nations there is also another interesting question. As mentioned above pro combat sports must be legalized “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.” The section makes no mention of a council of a band making a bylaw legalizing the sports.  That said section 81(1)(m) of the Indian Act says “the council of a band may make by-laws…for…the control or prohibition of public games, sports, races, athletic contests and other amusements

I am not aware of any judicial ruling addressing these inconsistencies.  Does the Criminal Code overrule the delegation under the Indian Act?  Or vice versa?  It is a question that should be answered.  Section 83 of the Criminal Code could use clearer wording for several issues including the above.  Alberta should also strongly consider getting in line with the rest of Canada and the US and moving to a provincial model for more consistency in regulation.

Given all the above legal issues in the Ice Wars may be on legal thin ice.


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