Ontario Senator Bob Runciman Introduces Bill to Officially Legalize MMA in Canada


The man who wants to alter the Canadian Criminal Code to technically legalize MMA has never attended a live UFC event, nor does he plan to.

It doesn’t take a fan, says Bob Runciman, to “recognize the reality” that is occurring in his country. The Ontario senator recently introduced a bill that would amend Criminal Code Sec. 83 (2), which currently states that a “prize fight means an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them.”

In an interview with “As It Happens,” a long-running Canadian radio show, Runciman discussed the changes that he would like to make to the Criminal Code.

“Right now the Criminal Code talks about hands and fists,” he said. “My amendment will add feet. And it talks about a boxing match, and my amendment will add ‘or mixed martial arts contests.’ So those will be the big changes.”

Although MMA is technically illegal in Canada, all Canadian provinces with athletic commissions currently allow the sport. Canada has been a financial boon to the UFC, with events held in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all drawing large crowds. UFC 129, which was held at the Rogers Centre in Toronto last April, set North American records for attendance (55,724) and live gate ($12.075 million). Last week, the promotion announced that it will visit Calgary, Ontario and Quebec for pay-per-view events in 2012.

Runciman said the UFC asked him to take up the cause of officially legalizing MMA in Canada.

“They came to me and asked me if I would consider doing it. I’m not a huge fan, to be quite honest with you, but it seemed simply a recognition of reality,” he said. “I think it’s based on the fact that, when I was Consumer Minister in Ontario, I was a big fan of prize fights, and I commissioned a study on professional boxing in Ontario. I think that’s why they approached me initially.”

While events have been held in Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, provinces such as Saskatchewan, Nunavut, Yukon, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador do not have commissions. Runciman’s proposed bill would allow the provinces without commissions to hold events without facing punishment for violating the Criminal Code.

“There’s always been this lack of clarity and concern with respect to the wording in the Criminal Code,” Runciman said. “The majority of the provinces are reluctant [to host events] until the wording is clearer. Even in Quebec and Ontario each event is examined on a case-by-case basis. It’s a very minor change; it’s simply modernizing the definition of a prize fight.”

Of course, not everyone is supportive of the proposed changes. The Canadian Medical Association has been an ardent critic of MMA, calling for it to be banned due to the potential long-term health issues its participants might face. That fact does not deter Runciman, however.

“I know it’s occurring in the two largest provinces in the country. The governments in those two provinces have decided to allow it to occur even though the code has not been changed,” he said. “I know when I was Consumer Minister in Ontario, there [were] very rigorous requirements in terms of ensuring the health and safety of the individuals participating in boxing matches. Certainly for Ontario that’s going to be the same approach even thought the code hasn’t been changed.”

The bill was tabled last Thursday and passed through its first reading. Before MMA is fully legalized the bill must receive multiple readings and pass through Senate as well as the House of Commons. Runciman believes everything is track for that to happen.

“Certainly the feedback and all the indications I’ve had have been positive,” he said.

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