Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to get started five seconds early. I'm using BlackBerry time, so there it is, 3:30.
Thank you for joining us today at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, meeting number 67, pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, November 28, on Bill .
We're fortunate enough to have the sponsor with us, from the Senate, the Honourable Bob Runciman, senator.
Massimo Pacetti, the MP for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, has just arrived.
While they're getting comfortable, I will just let you know that late yesterday afternoon the clerk got a call—and he called me—from the British Columbia government, their department of sport or whatever it is, wanting to be a witness on this bill. My thought was that I would bring it to committee to say that instead of doing clause-by-clause today, the Monday we come back we'll put the first hour aside for any further witnesses because we only have one, other than the movers of the bill. We have only one witness today and I think it's appropriate that if there are others who would like to come and see us on this private member's bill that they do so. I'm putting that out for discussion for the group, and then we'll go right to the piece.
Thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak about Bill . This bill updates the definition of “prize fighting” in section 83 of the Criminal Code, a definition that hasn't been changed in nearly 80 years. When the current offence of prize fighting became part of the code, the only exception allowed was for a boxing match held under the jurisdiction of a provincial athletic board.
As we all know, a lot has changed since then, and that's why the bill is necessary. Other combative sports have increased in popularity in the intervening decades, particularly at the amateur level.
Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing professional sport in North America, yet technically all these sports, including some Olympic events, are illegal. Provinces are forced to skirt the law when they allow these competitions to go ahead. I describe it as creative interpretations of the Criminal Code.
Bill updates the definition of a “prize fight” to include an encounter with fists, hands, or feet, and expands the list of exemptions to the offence to include amateur combative sports that are on the program of the International Olympic Committee or the program of the International Paralympic Committee, other amateur sports as designated or approved by the province, and boxing contests and mixed martial arts contests held under the authority of a provincial athletic board, commission. or a similar body.
In all exemptions, provincial permission is required and the contests are supervised by provincial or municipal regulators. Most of the provisions of this bill are identical to those in former Bill , from the second session of the 40th Parliament, provisions that were the result of extensive consultation dating back more than a decade among the federal government, the provinces, and national sports organizations. The only change from Bill C-31 is the addition of the words “or mixed martial arts contest” in paragraph 1(2)(d).
Regulators at both the provincial and municipal levels support this bill. Ken Hayashi, who is the long-time athletics commissioner of Ontario, and Pat Reid, the executive director of the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, both testified at the Senate committee about the need to update the Criminal Code. These are people, I can tell you from my experience as consumer minister in Ontario, who take their job very seriously, who want to ensure all the rules are complied with, and that athletes' health and safety are protected.
Their job is more difficult when the law they enforce no longer reflects reality. I know that for members of Parliament the top-of-mind concern will be safety of the athletes. Regulators require physicians to be at ringside during combative sport competitions, and competitors are subject to extensive pre- and post-fight medical tests and examinations, examinations that are conducted and supervised independently, unlike other sports.
The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission has compiled 10 years of evidence comparing injuries in mixed martial arts and boxing, that demonstrate that boxing is in fact more dangerous than mixed martial arts. They examined 556 boxing matches and found 9.5% of the fighters suffered concussions. They looked at 1,119 mixed martial arts bouts, and they found that the concussion rate was at 4.9%, just over half of that of boxing.
Regulators and competitors say the lower incidence of brain injuries in mixed martial arts is due to the nature of the combat and the various ways a fight can end, including the tap-out, which is a form of voluntary submission. Thirty per cent of UFC bouts end with a tap-out.
Mr. Chairman, I'm not going to sit here and tell you and other members of the committee that there are not significant risks of injuries in combative sports. There are. The question is, how do we best mitigate that risk?
In my view, proper regulation and supervision is crucial. Regulators want a more secure legal framework in which to operate. Bill is part of that process. By updating the Criminal Code to reflect modern reality, we are giving regulators one of the tools they need to keep athletes safe.
Again, I thank the committee for inviting me and look forward to any questions you might have.
I have a couple of notes.
I just want to thank the committee for having me. As colleagues I think it's a great honour to be in front of committee. I've done this a few times and it is a bit intimidating, but I understand that from your point of view you don't want to hear me for too long.
I'm just going to go through a couple of points. I already spoke in the House on this. I have a couple of points that I am going to make in French, so not to repeat what the senator just said.
I would just like to highlight a few points.
The goal of this bill is to legalize certain combative sports that are currently illegal but tolerated. Bill will enhance our ability to monitor combative sports in order to protect participants by reducing their risk of injury.
Some will ask why we should even allow such sports. With proper oversight, combative sports, like mixed martial arts, become much less dangerous for participants than other very common sports like hockey or boxing. Underground fights increase the risk of injury and generate unreported earnings. Not only are mixed martial arts competitions such as the UFC's extremely popular in Canada, but they also represent considerable income for our economy.
The purpose of this bill is to update the Criminal Code. Amending the Criminal Code is an important step towards eliminating any ambiguity regarding the legality of combative sports in Canada. And the popularity of those sports is growing. The Criminal Code currently defines a prize fight as an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons. The Criminal Code provisions on prize fights haven't been amended since 1934. Back then, combative sports were primarily limited to boxing and wrestling. The Criminal Code needs to include other combative sports such as karate and tae kwon do.
This bill will help prevent illegal underground fighting. Updating the Criminal Code will legalize combative sports such as mixed martial arts and tae kwon do, while standardizing the regulations. Because the Criminal Code doesn't specifically allow certain combative sports, some Canadians organize underground fights, putting participants at significant risk. This bill will give provinces the extra tools they need to better regulate the practice of combative sports.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, Madam Vice-Chair, and members of the committee, I want to first and foremost thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you this morning.
On behalf of the UFC, our athletes and mixed martial arts fans across Canada, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about our sport.
I'd also like to thank Senator Runciman for his stewardship in bringing Bill into the Senate, and the MP from Montreal, Massimo Pacetti, for introducing the bill in the House of Commons.
As both Senator Runciman and Mr. Pacetti mentioned, several people had the opportunity to speak to the committee in the Senate, which was addressing this issue, and there have been other opportunities for people to discuss the importance of bringing clarity to the Criminal Code and changing some of the ambiguity that currently exists within it.
I think it's important for people in this committee to understand that while my business card reads “Zuffa“, and it reads that I manage the UFC here in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, I'm actually here today representing the sport of mixed martial arts. So I have a MMA hat on and I'm trying to represent our sport, which in many ways is a very young sport compared with the other sports that we typically spend a lot of time talking about, be it boxing, which goes back into the 1800s, or hockey, football, basketball, and baseball, the traditional team sports, which are well into their second century. The sport of mixed martial arts is actually not even a teenager, when one considers its roots.
While there are thousands of professional mixed martial artists competing in Canada and many more tens of thousands around the world, there are also many aspiring athletes who want to be able to compete and to demonstrate their skills and their athleticism as mixed martial artists.
Unfortunately, the situation we have at the moment is that there's a cloud of uncertainty and there is ambiguity in the way the sport is considered municipally and provincially in many jurisdictions across the country.
The initiative to have subsection 83(2) of the Criminal Code changed is intended to bring in a more consistent regulatory environment in order to bring continuity to our sport and to eliminate the ambiguity that certainly is present in the language that was written back in the 1930s.
It's important because, as Senator Runciman mentioned, the sport of mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world, and Canada has a very unique position in this sport. It's a position of leadership, not only from the sport's perspective, but also from the regulatory perspective.
When I speak about how Canada is regarded, it's interesting that we—I'm speaking now about the UFC, the company I work with—are the largest league in the world. If you think of the sport as hockey and the league as the NHL, or the sport as football and the league as the CFL, this sport is mixed martial arts, and the number one league in the world is the UFC.
This year alone we will be holding approximately 33 events around the world, and three of them will be held in Canada. Of those 33 events, 13 will be what we call pay per view—big, large, global events—and Canada will be hosting three of them. A week and a half ago we were in Montreal for UFC 158. We will be going to Winnipeg, Manitoba for the first time for UFC 161 in June, and we will be back in Toronto for UFC 165 in September.
That's three out of 13 global events, and these events are opportunities not only for our sport to be showcased but our athletes to be showcased around the world.
We compete with other cities not only here in Canada but around the world to host these events. In the past 12 or 14 months we've held events in Tokyo, Japan; Sydney, Australia; Macau; London; Rio de Janeiro; and of course we've held them across Canada in the cities I've mentioned, but also in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Chicago—major metropolitan areas.
It's an interesting tribute to our sport that Canada on a per capita basis is the largest consumer of mixed martial arts in the world, and we are home to some of the most famous athletes. Georges St-Pierre—we've all heard of his name—represents not only the province of Quebec but also the country of Canada so very well. He is an eight-time defending world welterweight champion. He was one of the individuals who ended up filling the Bell Centre last Saturday for UFC 158 in Montreal. Not only was Georges St-Pierre on that card, but there were a total of eight Canadians.
Our athletes come from coast to coast to coast. From Nova Scotia, T. J. Grant is one of our top 10 ranked lightweights, and he is from Cole Harbour. We could think of other athletes from Cole Harbour. I guess T. J. Grant would be number two from Cole Harbour, given that he's not quite Sidney Crosby yet. There are others from across the country.
It's important that not only have we been a leader with regard to our sport globally from a business point of view and from an acceptance point of view, but also from a regulatory point of view. At the heart of this initiative to bring clarity to the Criminal Code and eliminate the ambiguity is the goal of providing a consistent framework for regulation across the country and the necessary safety and health protection environment for all of our athletes to compete in.
I bring this up in particular because I recall a question being asked about how this impacts provinces versus municipalities. One thing that is really important to remember—and again I'll have my mixed martial arts hat on, not my UFC hat—is that the importance of having consistent regulation is to make sure that every single organization, be it a large professional organization that has offices around the world, like the UFC, or a local professional mixed martial organization that may only conduct its business in Alberta, British Columbia or Nova Scotia, be held to a specific rigour and a specific standard when it comes to the health and safety of the sport.
In the absence of regulation, in the absence of this continuity, you run into the potential issue that other organizations will not be held to that standard, and it is so very important. While the UFC may be the largest organization in the world, and while I personally would love to see us go to the territory of Yukon and take an event there, the chances are that we will not be able to take an event to the Yukon. That doesn't mean other professional mixed martial arts organizations should not be provided with that opportunity, and if they are, that organization or any other organization needs to be held to a specific and a strong, certain rigour in the regulatory standards that are in place, again to protect the health and safety of the athletes.
Senator Runciman spoke to the importance of pre- and post-fight medical testing. We also do pre- and post-fight drug testing. You want to make sure that there is a level playing field for these athletes. You want to make sure that weight classes are respected. You want to make sure that the officials are properly trained. You want to make sure that the sport is regulated, as other sports around the world and around our country are properly regulated.
In the absence of the clarity that we're seeking and that Bill provides, you run into the risk that some provinces won't sanction it and that some provinces may adopt a different perspective. It's the consistency that's so very important to allowing a sport such as ours to continue to grow and allow our country to continue to have the leadership position that it has.
I can tell you that now that I and our company and my team in Toronto are responsible for the UFC's operations in Australia and New Zealand, when I go into those countries, not only do I represent our sport, but they are anxious to understand what the regulatory environment is like in Canada.
Again, we provide a level of leadership when it comes to taking our sport forward and making sure it is provided with the foundation and the consistent regulatory environment to allow the sport to continue to grow safely, in a healthy manner, and in such a way as to make sure that the athletes' health and safety is protected at all times.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'm happy to take any and all questions.
First of all, thanks for taking the time to be here, Mr. Wright.
We have a bill that my predecessor on the sports file, , actually presented in terms of trying to find a way to get rid of this pandemic—I think at this point we can call it that—of concussions. That was one of the big issues for me when I started working on this particular issue with regard to MMA.
I remember even having a conversation with my colleague, Ryan Leef, and I started looking at studies and hearing from doctors and others who actually said that you have more chance of getting a head injury from horseback riding than by engaging in MMA, as absurd as that may sound.
That said, you come from a large company that has the capacity to properly regulate. I think we had a conversation once where you talked about the importance of this bill for smaller leagues as well, for folks who don't necessarily have the resources, about what having a clear legal framework does for the minor leagues, I guess you could call them, where there are aspiring athletes, for example, about making sure that's clear.
Would you care to comment on that?
Mr. Dubé, that's absolutely accurate. It is one of the distinctions between our professional sport and other professional leagues. It is that arm's-length third party oversight that I think is critically important.
I'l give you a hypothetical example. We know how much of an icon Georges St-Pierre is for our sport, and I can tell you how important he is to our league. Let's say he's injured. I may want him to compete in a month. I may want him to go and compete in Winnipeg, because I know if he competes in Winnipeg, he'll do tremendously well and our business will do tremendously well. But it's not our decision. The decision is made by the regulatory commission that is overseeing the competition.
After every one of our competitions, the commissions will come out and they'll put an athlete under a suspension. It could be a 30-day, a 60-day, or a 90-day suspension, depending on what happened. That athlete is not even allowed to train with contact until such a time as he has been released by that commission.
The commissions share information, and not only among themselves in Canada; they're part of a global organization that shares that information. If an athlete's been injured in, say, Quebec, and tries to fight in Alberta, he's not allowed to, because the commissions share that information.
Now, if he happened to be a hockey player and he happened to be the best player on my team, and I'm going into the playoffs and I need him to play, I'm somewhat conflicted if I'm the coach; I really want Mr. Leef to compete.
That's the distinction.
There are some, and I would be more than happy to provide you with either links to their websites or copies of them. The interesting thing is that the Johns Hopkins University study, which I think Mr. Pacetti was referencing, demonstrated that there were no more significant traumatic head injuries in the sport of mixed martial arts than there were in boxing. There are other studies that have been done that actually show a significantly lower number of traumatic head injuries.
One of the fundamental differences, of course, with mixed martial arts, is that there are multiple ways to win and multiple ways to lose; whereas in boxing it's principally one or two. The other distinguishing difference between the two sports comes in the training for the sport. This is anecdotal evidence, data that have been shared with me by people who have been brought up in the boxing community, but the notion is typically that for every round that a boxer would fight in an actual competition, be it 10 or 12, those boxers tend to spar for about 100 rounds in their training. If you're training for mixed martial arts, you will do some striking, some boxing training, but you will also train in takedown defence, grappling, and submissions in wrestling and judo or karate, whatever it happens to be. What happens in that kind of environment is that if you're only training one way and then you're only competing one way, the logic is that there will be more traumatic head injuries. The actual facts tend to bear that out.
I think somebody else was mentioning earlier about some of the traumatic head injuries that happen in horseback riding. It's interesting. I read an article just the other day about two doctors from the province of Alberta who were writing in response to the Canadian Medical Association's policy statement calling for a ban on mixed martial arts. These are two doctors who were disappointed that the Canadian Medical Association seemed to be coming from more of an emotional decision; it wasn't based on fact. With the traumas they've seen and dealt with in the hospitals, there are far more injuries from equestrian events, from hockey, from football, than they ever have seen in mixed martial arts.
I can provide you with a link to a website in the United States that tracks this. It's called the catastrophic sports injury something....
I'll answer your second question first.
I've already had conversations with individuals in Halifax at the Metro convention centre. I'd like nothing better than at some point to bring the UFC to Atlantic Canada. I have every expectation that it will happen. The economic benefits I believe would be tremendous.
When we held UFC 129 in Toronto, the first event that was held in Ontario after the Province of Ontario sanctioned the sport coming into 2011, the direct economic impact into the province was north of $35 million. We had 55,000 people attend. We sold tickets to that event in all 10 provinces, all 3 territories, and all 50 states, and in every continent in the world, except Antarctica. The economic impact was tremendous. I know that to be a fact. I'd be happy to provide the clerk with that information. We also did economic impact studies for the two events we've held in Vancouver, again with tremendous success.
Not only do we believe that those events provide great economic impact, but I can tell you that the growth and the development of gyms, of MMA clubs, and of different combative sport clubs, has been significant and parallel to the growth of our sport. We have an athlete who used to compete, Jason MacDonald, out of Red Deer, Alberta. When he first started with the UFC, he had to go to San Jose to train because there were no facilities in Alberta for him to train at.
When I last chatted with him when we went to Calgary in July of last year, he was telling me that there are 77 mixed martial arts training facilities alone in the city of Calgary. That's another economic driver. These are small businesses. Everybody around here knows how small business as the economic driver of our country is very important.
Well, we didn't want him to vote anyway.
An hon. member: Too many head shots—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Wilks: Anyway, thank you very much, Mr. Wright, for coming today. It was a pleasure to meet you a few months ago back in the Yukon.
One of the clarifications I have, of course, is on section 83 of the code. This will bring it up to a standard from the perspective of a national level. Everyone will be clear in understanding what section 83 is across the board from the perspective of the professional mixed martial arts contest.
The one thing that I did notice—and I know you're not a lawyer, so I don't expect an answer—is that under paragraph 83(1)(c), it also says “is present at a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter”. From the perspective of this bill, it will also protect them as well. Is that my understanding from this? Otherwise, it is the fighter that we're protecting, but not necessarily anyone else. I'm assuming that this amendment will also clarify that.
Could you answer that?