Does Bill S-209 Criminalize Amateur MMA?

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Recently, the Federal Government has made efforts to modernize the Criminal Code to permit MMA and other Striking Sports to become lawful.

While this amendment will allow the sport to be properly regulated on a Professional level, review of the legislation appears to create a potential gap on the amateur side. The reason being that “prize fights”, including MMA and other martial arts contests, will become illegal on the amateur side unless one of the following three exceptions apply:

(a) if the sport is on the programme of the International Olympic Committee (Note many martial arts, including MMA, are not)

(b) if the sport has been designated by the Province’s lieutenant governor in council or by any other person or body specified by him or her, or

(c) if the contest is held “in a province with the permission of the Province’s lieutenant governor in council or any other person or body specified by him or her.

Currently I am not aware of any BC legislation setting out a list of designated or permitted amateur contests. Under the current Criminal Code language this is not needed as amateur contests are exempt from criminalization where “the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and forty grams each in mass”. However, given the proposed re-wording it appears amateur bouts without a specific designation may unintentionally become outlawed.

The passage of the proposed federal legislation may unintentionally criminalize otherwise lawful amateur contests on a Province by Province basis. The solution will be for the various Provinces to be aware of this and make appropriate designations on the Provincial level.

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Erik Magraken is a personal injury litigator and Partner with the British Columbia law-firm MacIsaac & Company.  You can follow his BC Injury Law Blog here: http://bc-injury-law.com/blog/

32 Responses to “ Does Bill S-209 Criminalize Amateur MMA? ”

  1. Robin Black says:

    Great piece sir.

    Amateur MMA is happening right across the country. Tons in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC.

    Depending on who puts it on, it is sometimes just 2 barely trained young men fighting for no money.

    Safety is a concern. Making Amateur MMA “criminal” and in need of Provincial involvement may make cause of these promotions to get looked at more closely.

    When a promoter is going to take 2 kids with little or no training and make money by having them fight, it should be looked at very very closely.

    This legislation may cause that to happen.

    Thanks for the article man.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  2. Erik Magraken says:

    Robin, thanks for your comment.

    I agree that consistent regulation on the Provincial side will be a good thing. BC is already on the ball with BC’s Minister of Sport recently addressing the issue advising the Province is aware that new legislation will be necessary once Bill S-209 passes. Other Provinces need to follow suit.

    In case you are interested, here is a link to BC’s Minster of Sport’s recent letter addressing this:

    http://canadianmmalawblog.com/2012/07/20/provinces-must-make-sure-your-karate-kid-does-not-become-a-criminal-under-bill-s-209/

    Yours truly,

    Erik

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  3. Erik Magraken says:

    Also, I want to thank Keith Grienke for publishing this here to bring wider attention to this issue. Much appreciated Keith!

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  4. Don't Call Me Leon says:

    Interesting news here, can’t wait to see how this thing progresses. Thanks Keith & Erik for keeping us fans in the loop and out of the dark!

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  5. L says:

    regulation is great, great for the sport. But let`s not slip away from safety while trying to regulate amateur MMA.
    Amateur MMA should require the same medicals as professional competitions.
    Promoters, match makers, and anyone involved with organizing and holding a MMA event should closely monitor the athletes MMA training, and health etc. Like Robyn said earlier, it could be just two guys barely trained, and might I add, unhealthy, with no experience, that just want to fight. that`s a recipe for disaster.
    medical standardization(i.e Brain CTScans/MRI) should not be altered between professional mma and amateur mma, when, in fact, both competitors are taking serious blows to the head.
    With the amateur side of the sport blowing up. It will attract more guys that want to fight. Not everyone interested in fighting is a true martial artist. Some are Uneducated, unhealthy, unconditioned, untrained, the list goes on. I don’t want to these guys come in, get injured, possibly die and make the sport look bad
    Let’s never forget that safety is priority. Be aware of every safety measure and make it happen right.

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  6. L says:

    basically make sure everyone is trained and healthy enough to fight….even with amateurs, need to get ct scans, mri, eeg, ecg, the works……sometime you have to pay to be a fighter, medicals come out of your own pocket but thats life. safety first.

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  7. MMAPolice says:

    great piece

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  8. Jeans says:

    I am sure amateur mma will continue throughout the country regardless of this bill. Just as MMA is all over the place without it legal in Section 83.

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  9. Donald Duck says:

    “regulation is great, great for the sport. But let`s not slip away from safety while trying to regulate amateur MMA.” – Len

    Safety should be the only reason/job of a commission. What tends to happen, in my opinion, is that MMA is being regulated by people who don’t understand MMA on a deep enough level and fanboys who think they understand the sport.

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  10. Chase Degenhardt says:

    Here in Alberta, medical requirements for both amateur and pro competition are the same, as far as I know.

    There are small rule changes in amateur contests, such as no knees and elbows to the head, no heel hooks/twisting of the knee attacks, etc.

    Often, the amateur fighters in these contests will be better trained and prepared than some of their supposed “pro” counterparts.

    I think amateur fighting is important for the continued development of the sport and I agree that fighter safety needs to be a big concern (although I can’t stand the Calgary amateur rules).

    As far as the idea of untrained guys getting in there and fighting, I think that possibly one of the ways to get rid of that would actually be to have it as mandatory that you must have a certain number of amateur fights before you can turn professional. There’s nothing worse than going to a pro show and having it look more like comedy than mma.

    I doubt that kind of rule change will ever happen though. We’ll always have guys who watch UFC and think they can be fighters, and we’ll always have promoters who are willing to try to make $$ off of that spectacle.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Roderick Onoferychuk says:

    Erik,
    Bill S -209 is problematic for the following reasons:
    1. “Amateur athletes” is not defined. Does this mean that the athlete is not paid, or that the athlete fights under amateur rules? There is an unwritten rule that professionals cannot return to amateur status. However, in the past there was sanctioning for professional MMA, but not amateur MMA and some athletes fought as professionals because there simply was no option, but would have fought amateur if it was available.
    2. “Mixed martial arts” is not defined. Does this include Muay Thai? North America Kickboxing? In any event, the prior limited case law suggests that they are not “boxing contests” (see MAFA and Chang).
    3. In that vein, knees and elbows are not included in the definition. My own opinion is that adding “feet” was not a proper emendment as limiting it to an encounter or fight would have been apposite.
    4. It does not take into consideration commissions created on Indian Reservations. The Indian Act provides for “the control or prohibition of public games, sports, races, athletic contests and other amusements” by a counsel of a band. Given this is a federal piece of legislation (and ignoring the possibility that there is an inherent aboriginal right to prize fight) what would happen if a Band Council in BC tried to form a commission? What if that commission had rules and regulations at odds with the newly formed BC commission?
    5. It does not directly address the ability for municipalities to form commissions. Alberta has no provincial commission; municipalities have stepped up ostensibly under the Municipalities Act to address same. Is this a proper utilisation of establishment “under the authority of the province’s legislature”? I would think it is, but it still leaves open the possibility of a court challenge.
    6. Without getting into the division of powers arguments (which bore even most lawyers) – which in any event, likely could not be addressed in the Criminal Code, it does address the formation of a central overseer, like the Muhammad Ali Act does in in the USA. Currently, most commissions report the results after an event, and the length of medical suspensions, failed drug tests and the like to a central overseer that all Commissions can tap into – the reasons are simple; fighter safety. In the USA the Muhammad Ali Act requires this; otherwise the failing commission gets a reprimand, or even the possibility of expulsion from the Association of Boxing Commissions (“ABC”). Currently there is no legal requirement for commissions to report in Canada, and the ABC has no jurisdiction in Canada.

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  12. Robin Black says:

    This is what lawyers do.

    They have years of development and expertise in debating the details of law.

    A quality lawyer is skilled in the art of finding legal details to support their side of the argument or that of their client.

    Mr. Onoferychuk, what is your legal point (in normal people terms)?

    And, all legal mumbo jumbo aside, do you personally think Amateur MMA should be regulated by the provinces?

    Or do you personally think that it should not, and you’re using your reasons 1-6 (above) to support that agenda?

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  13. Robin Black says:

    Also in the interest of full disclosure- do you work with, or have any involvement with promoters who currently do business in amateur MMA?

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  14. Robin Black says:

    Actually, come to think of it, Erik do you work with anyone involved in amateur MMA?

    Thanks guys this is a fascinating discussion for a nerd like me.

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  15. Donald Duck says:

    Huh, looks like this Rod guy used to be on the Calgary Commission.

    Donnie

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  16. Erik Magraken says:

    Thanks for your comments and question. I don’t have any formal involvement with folks involved in MMA. I wrote this piece simply to bring attention to the fact that Provinces need to act in the face of this Bill otherwise risk amateur contest (not just MMA but even matterrs as common as Karate contests) becoming illegal by default.

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  17. Robin Black says:

    Thanks Erik.

    It is always so appreciated when people share information like this.

    The fact that you have no formal involvement in any MMA, particularly no involvement in anything that makes profit from Amateur MMA, gives your observations much more weight imo.

    Erik, there is a mass of profits to be made from Amateur MMA these days, particularly in the west.

    Bill S-209 can potentially be threatening to some Amateur MMA promoter’s ability to make profit.

    A smart Amateur MMA promoter, when faced with a legislation that can threaten his profit, will sometimes enlist lawyers to challenge the law in question.

    That’s pretty standard business I guess.

    So I’m basically asking Mr. Onoferychuk if he’s involved with such a promotion so we can get a sense of whether his points are just an expression of his interest in this bill or a legal opinion in line with the business position of someone he works with.

    Thanks again for your research and writing sir.

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  18. Roderick Onoferychuk says:

    Donald Duck and Robin – I am a lawyer in Calgary and I used to sit on the Commission. I am just a guy passionate about combative sports – just like you two.
    I was the only member who opposed the amateur rules when they were brought in, as the ABC already had a default set and I felt the Calgary Rules were too restrictive.
    I know Ari Taub (in fact his office is across the street from mine), but I in no way work for the man or any other promoter.
    I will tone down the legalise.
    I have prepared a legal paper (that never got used at the ABC meeting in Montreal about 5 years ago) that addresses the history of section 83 – I would be pleased to email either of you a copy.
    My point is that the Bill had the chance to rectify/clarify a lot of issues – and it fails miserably in that respect. It (usually) takes a long time to change laws, so when they get changed, it is nice when they get it right.
    Of interest, the last time this section was debated in Parliament was in the 50s –the late, great John Deifenbaker was of the opinion that it should be removed from the Criminal Code.
    In regard to amateur MMA/amateur Muay Thai – given that neither of them are Olympic Sports, if the Lieutenant General of any given province declines to designate those sports/grants permission for events then they would be illegal. Truth is, I would imagine that getting these sports designated is probably low on their list of priorities – and this is likely to create uncertainty for promoters, fans and fighters.

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  19. Erik Magraken says:

    Rod, you hit the nail on the head with the last paragraph of your last comment. Cheers.

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  20. Robin Black says:

    This is some good stuff.

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  21. Robin Black says:

    A small handful of nerds (myself included) really appreciate both you guys contributing your expertise.

    Mr. Onoferychuk, thanks for your input.

    I would love to see your paper sir.

    Amateur MMA is a complicated minefield. Opinions are evolving about different sanctioning and legislation stuff all the time.

    Most of us believe safety is paramount, and everyone has different ways they think best to implement safety.

    Thanks for givin us different things to consider guys.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Roderick Onoferychuk says:

    Could not agree with you more. There needs to be an acceptable range in terms of what: techniques, rules, testing and suspension periods are acceptable for amateur MMA (I suppose Pro too for that matter).
    I don’t think there necessarily needs to be a Provincial or Municipal Commission involved, but some sort of independent, legitimate, recognised body that can oversee an event. I would also include at a reasonable cost to the promoter/participants.
    I often said that I don’t care about a promoter’s bottom line, but having said that if a promoter with a reasonable degree of business acumen wants to put on an amateur MMA card , let’s say for the love and promotion of the sport, but can’t because s/he is certain to lose money, says me the fees are too high.
    For what is worth, my two cents is that I think that the Lethbridge Commission probably has the right formula/approach.

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  23. Robin Black says:

    I talked to Beamer Comfort about this, and he had a similar view.

    Its something to think about I guess.

    Whenever safety and profit have the potential to be opposing ingredients in an event it puts lots of variables in play.

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  24. Roderick Onoferychuk says:

    Mr. Comfort and I exchange pleasantries from time to time.

    Safety concerns are on a continuum. Do I think that the Alberta government doesn’t care for its citizens because it allows right turns on red lights and the use of only a rear licence plate? Someone in Montreal might.

    Does that mean that a given Commission doesn’t care for its fighters because they don’t require say a fundoscopy, or only medically suspend a concussed athlete for 4 weeks? I would say not.

    The safest event is no event – if the cost is too punishing for a promoter then you get no event.

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  25. Robin Black says:

    The least safe is just letting promoters do whatever they want.

    I think we all agree somewhere in the middle makes sense.

    :)

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  26. Donald Duck says:

    Ug, just what MMA needs, more lawyers.

    Why aren’t former fighters and coaches more involved in the regulation of the sport? No other sport on the planet has less competitor engagement at a rules and regulation side that MMA. Sad really. I mean when was the last time a commission had a sitting member who’d actually taped on a pair of gloves?

    I’m sure the lawyers all mean well but…. aw f**k it what do I know, I’m just an old dinosaur these days.

    Donnie

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  27. Erik Magraken says:

    Thank you all for your comments.

    I am happy to see the thoughtful discussion this has triggered.

    The bottom line is that the Federal Government is going to require MMA and other striking contests (both professional and amateur) to be regulated on the Provincial level.

    Provincial Governments need to be made aware of this. The resulting regulation should be a positive development and now is a great time to ensure the appropriate lawmakers make informed decisions to create consistent standards from Province to Province. I have taken the time to canvass this with the BC Government as was discussed in my subsequent post:
    http://topmmanews.com/2012/07/22/provinces-must-make-sure-your-karate-kid-does-not-become-a-criminal-under-bill-s-209/
    In encourage those of you in other jurisdictions to do the same to ensure amateur contests are not criminalizes by default and that appropriate regulations are brought in to properly address many of the above points.

    Thanks again for all the responses.

    Yours truly,

    Erik Magraken

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  28. Robin Black says:

    Erik, do you have a general email skeleton outlining this that could be sent to the right provincial level government people in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario Quebec and the east?

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  29. Erik Magraken says:

    Hi Robin, below is the letter I used to bring this to BC’s attention:

    Ms. Chong, first thank you for introducing Bill 50. This is a positive and welcome piece of legislation.

    I write with a quick concern regarding Amateur Martial Arts competitions. It appears these may unintentionally become unlawful and this is something that can easily be remedied on the Provincial level.

    As you are likely aware the Federal Government has introduced Bill s-209 which seeks to modernize the “prize fight” prohibition in the criminal code. While this will go hand in hand with Bill 50 to allow Professional Competitions in our Province, amateur martial arts contests may slip through the gaps.

    The reason being under the new Federal legislation, Amateur contests will only be legal in they are
    a. IOC approved events (many martial arts, including MMA, are not)
    b. A contest that “has been designated by the Province’s lieutenant governor in council; or
    c. A context held with the permission of a Province’s lieutenant governor in council

    As far as I can tell, Bill 50 will only apply to professional events. Furthermore I am not aware of any Provincial legislation addressing (and therefore authorizing) amateur boxing, kick boxing, and martial arts contests. (If I am mistaken about this please let me know what legislation addresses this).

    I point the above out so that this gap in the law can be addressed and amateur martial arts bouts do not accidently become illegal in BC once Bill S-209 is passed.

    If your office would like to further discuss this with me please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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  30. On the fence about the situation with amateurs, there is a very deep pool of very talented guys in BC who use this ‘amateur series’ to get our feet wet ( a lot being better than a number of pro’s) but not to concerned about winning or losing, just preforming. On the other side we have under trained ‘tough guys’ with there hands down chin up and no defence, that gets dangerous.. Still on the fence

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  31. Slim says:

    Amateur MMA is needed for the athletes. Just having that extra experience and being able to make mistakes without affecting your pro record is important.

    I feel we do need a gradual system, where athletes have to compete amateur, then work their way up the ranks with an expanded rule set.

    Another possible idea: I’m pretty sure the California commission requires all athletes to “try out” before getting licensed. Maybe this would be something to look into to ensure a more level playing field?

    Amateur fights are necessary for promoters too. They provide extra fights for a show so pros can get paid some what decently. If it wasn’t for that, promoters would have to charge even more per ticket to break even. Somewhere along the line we’re going to start to see a diminishing return on these ticket prices (60$ per ticket, every couple of weeks is getting out of hand). Less people going = less money for everyone involved.

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  32. Slim says:

    @Robin:

    I know you’re big on fighter safety and sleazy promoters taking advantage of new guys/girls to the sport with the amateur but I think it’s a necessary evil.

    We’re always going to have the Chris Lauzons trying to be a part of MMA. Giving the opportunity (or forcing them) to be amateur first ideally would keep them safe from knees/elbows, heel hooks, etc…

    How much does a new fighter with no amateur experience get paid these days anyways? Take off licensing fees, medicals, some promotions don’t even supply gloves (though this doesn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore). Now you’re looking at a minor profit or even a financial loss to fight.

    It’s rare for people in amateur to keep fighting after losing 2-3 in a row, but in pro we have these guys who become fodder to fighters trying to pad their record and commissions don’t seem to do anything about the match-ups.

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