Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Issue 18 - Evidence for May 10, 2012
OTTAWA, Thursday, May 10, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met
this day at 10:35 a.m. to study Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal
Code (prize fights).
Senator Joan Fraser (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs. We are continuing our study of Bill S-209,
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights).
This morning we are pleased to welcome, as our first witnesses, from
Ultimate Fighting Championship, Mr. Tom Wright, Director of Canadian
Operations; and Mr. Rory MacDonald, a UFC welterweight fighter, who will be
able to give us a real what-it-is-like perspective.
Tom Wright, Director of Canadian Operations, Ultimate Fighting
Championship: Thank you very much, Madam Chair and senators, for the
opportunity to speak with you today.
On behalf of the UFC, our athletes and mixed martial arts fans in Canada,
I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today to talk to you
about our sport.
I would like to acknowledge all the previous witnesses. You have heard
from athletic commissioners, sport ministers and doctors. There has been a
lot of discussion about this new sport called mixed martial arts. It is the
fastest growing sport in the world. It is an exciting, fast-paced,
high-energy global sport. It is a sport with amazing athletes like Rory
MacDonald. For those who do not know Mr. MacDonald, he is originally a B.C.
native from Quesnel, B.C. He grew up in Kelowna and Langley and now lives in
Montreal where he trains at the Tristar Gym with another welterweight
Canadian fighter, Georges St-Pierre.
Mr. MacDonald is 22 and is the fourth youngest of our athletes in the UFC.
His record is 13 and 1. He is a great Canadian and is a representative and
ambassador for this new sport. He most recently competed as the co-main
event in UFC 145, where he was victorious. I am proud to have this fellow
Canadian as an athlete in our sport.
This committee may not be aware of how distinctly Canadian mixed martial
arts has become, and the UFC in particular. As I said, it is the fastest
growing sport in the world, but Canada has the most developed market in the
world for our sport on a per capita basis. Our first event in Ontario, UFC
129, on April 30, 2011, set an all-time world record for our event.
Fifty-five thousand Canadians showed up to cheer on our athletes and watch
many Canadians compete.
While mixed martial arts is a new and exciting sport in which Canada has
this position, it is also a polarizing sport. The one thing that cannot be
denied is the fact that it is a sport.
As a sport, it is absolutely fundamental that there be consistent rules,
regulations and a consistent field of play so athletes like Mr. MacDonald
can compete on a level playing field. It is fundamental that we have this
consistent field of play because you want to make sure that you have
properly trained officials, that certain rules and regulations are in place,
and that there is a fair outcome for the competition. Most importantly, you
want a consistent, professionally managed and rigorously maintained
regulatory environment for competition oversight.
At the heart of all these needs is the health and safety of our athletes.
I can tell you that when the company I work for, Zuffa, purchased the
intellectual property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in early 2001,
the first thing we did as an organization was to run to regulation. We ran
to regulation because at the time our sport was not sanctioned. It was not
regulated in any province or territory in Canada and in only two states in
the United States of America: Nevada and New Jersey.
We are now regulated either provincially or municipally in seven of our
10 provinces and the three territories. We are regulated in 46 of the 48
states in the United States that have commissions. Again, this is about
making sure that there is a consistent regulatory environment and that the
health and safety of our athletes is first and foremost.
I am a proud Canadian. In time, our goal is to have all 10Aprovinces and
three territories have a consistent regulatory framework. The challenge is
that because of section 83(2) of the Criminal Code there is this ambiguity —
a lack of clarity — as it relates to the definition of prizefighting. It is
silent on mixed martial arts. It speaks to boxing, and when that section was
written in the 1930s, the sport of mixed martial arts did not exist. These
very simple changes to the Criminal Code will have very significant impacts
to mixed martial arts in Canada, to our sport as we continue to grow and
provide opportunities for Mr. MacDonald to represent our country and our
sport as well as he does.
These simple changes will eliminate the ambiguity and bring clarity to
section 83(2), provide a consistent regulatory environment across our
country and lift this cloud of legal uncertainty for provinces that
fundamentally must turn a blind eye to the Criminal Code.
With that, I thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. Mr.
MacDonald and myself are fully supportive of the amendment — Bill S-209 —
that is in front of the Senate. At this time we would entertain any
questions. One of the reasons we have Mr. MacDonald here is to ensure that
you not only have the perspective of the management of the sport here in
Canada; it is really important that you have an understanding and
perspective of one of our athletes.
The last thing is that, as a little bit of context for Mr. MacDonald, our
sport is a young one. In real terms we are not even a teenager. The one
hundredth Grey Cup will be celebrated in Toronto. Hockey, basketball and
baseball are well into their century. However, this is a young sport, and
even athletes five or ten years ago would have come up to mixed martial arts
from an individual art. It might have been from karate, judo, tae kwon do,
Greco-Roman wrestling or perhaps boxing. Mr. MacDonald represents a new
breed of athlete that has trained as a mixed martial artist. He has skill in
all those interdisciplinary disciplines that make up mixed martial arts. He
is also a great ambassador for our country, which is one of the reasons I am
proud to have him as an athlete and to introduce him to this Senate
committee. Thank you very much.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Wright.
Senator Runciman: Welcome to both of you. Mr. Wright, you raised
the issue of safety. Many may not know that you also have experience as a
former commissioner of the Canadian Football League. We have heard some
concern about injuries. We had a discussion yesterday with a number of
witnesses about injuries in this sport that you are representing versus
hockey or football. You have a unique background, perhaps, with respect to
being up close and personal with professional football. Maybe you could
address that. From Mr. MacDonald's perspective as an athlete and competitor,
I wonder how the safety provisions that are in place for him and other
fighters compare with, say, boxing.
Mr. Wright: Thank you, senator. I will start, and then Mr.
MacDonald can conclude.
I think I have that perspective, having been the commissioner of the
Canadian Football League. In previous jobs, I have worked with professional
basketball, hockey and baseball players. It is really important to
understand that we have taken very distinct measures to ensure the health
and safety of our athletes, first and foremost. What separates our sport
from those others is the fact that it is actually the regulatory
environment. It is third-party athletic commissions that are responsible for
establishing the consistent rules and regulations in terms of pre-fight and
post- fight medicals that all of our athletes must go through, and the
consistent training of the referees so that they are in a position, when a
fighter is not able to take care of himself, that they can stop the contest.
It is somewhat different than in those other sports, where it is not a
third party that is administering those regulations. I can tell you
circumstances. Every single one of our fighters go through a rigorous set of
medical examinations, CAT scans and blood testing before they compete. We
drug test all of our athletes as well.
Following an event, the athletic commission — provincially or municipally
in Canada or state commissions in certain jurisdictions in the United States
— will then do a post-fight analysis of our athletes. If there are any
concerns, it is that third party arm's-length commission that will suspend
an athlete for 30, 60 or 90 days. That athlete is not allowed to train with
contact until that athlete has been passed and approved by the medical
We take it very seriously because at the heart of our sport are our
athletes and a consistent and fair level playing field. That is why we look
carefully. We do not take it lightly. We know concussions and head injuries
are a significant part of sport. We see it in hockey and in football.
However, we try to make sure it is not in our hands to measure, but in
professional hands that are third party.
The last point I would make is why it is so important that we have this
consistent regulatory environment across the country. You want to ensure
that every single organization that is conducting a professional mixed
martial arts event is held to the same rigour and standard as we are. We
know we will protect our athletes, but we want to ensure that every single
organization is held to that same standard, a standard of consistency and
rigour that will ensure the health and safety of our athletes.
Rory MacDonald, UFC Welterweight Fighter, Ultimate Fighting
Championship: I can only give my personal experience on the matter. I
feel completely safe when I enter the octagon because of the steps that I go
through leading up to and following a fight.
Certain tests have to be done with registered doctors and head scans,
blood tests, all the medicals that Mr. Wright went through already. I have
never felt that I have been put in a position where I am risking my health.
I always feel that I am at my very best when I am stepping in there. I feel
like the UFC and the sport of MMA has always protected my health as an
Senator White: Thank you for being here today. I have seen the
growth of MMA in Canada. My question focuses around whether or not we are
doing anything in this country to make MMA an Olympic sport.
I think it is an area we could excel at, first of all, and second, it is
a sport that, over the past decade, has grown from what originally was
referred to as cage fights and things like that to being seen by many now as
your typical pugilist sport, no different than although a lot different than
boxing. Most of us, I think, have grown to understand the sport better,
whether or not you see making it an Olympic sport as our next step,
especially when we look at people like Mr. MacDonald who grew up in that
sport rather than converting at 23 or 24, maybe having competed
internationally as a wrestler or something else but actually finding himself
that this is a pure sport in itself almost at this point.
Mr. Wright: I will let Mr. MacDonald speak about how excited he
would be to be an Olympian representing Canada, but I can tell you that as
recently as maybe eight to ten months ago, I had some preliminary
discussions with individuals at Sport Canada to look at that kind of
development, all along the notion of making mixed martial arts an Olympic
sport. It was just last month, in Sweden, that the International Mixed
Martial Arts Federation was founded. That is a global regulatory oversight
body that, I think, in time, has as its goal to have MMA as an Olympic
It is interesting that you bring this up, because in one of my previous
lives I used to be the CEO of Salomon North America, the ski company. When I
first took that job, I had a snowboard sales team and a snowboarding
division of my sport. If you looked at me and said, "Do you think in 15 or
20 years that one of the most watched events at the Calgary 2010 Olympics
would be the half-pipe competition or the snowboard cross,'' some people
might have said, "You are crazy,'' but that is what has happened with these
new sports that have engaged these new athletes and have allowed countries
like Canada to take a leadership position. That is what happens. I would
like nothing better than to maybe go to Quebec City. I do not know if that
will happen that quickly, but I would like nothing better than to attend an
Olympic Games and have mixed martial arts and be able to salute athletes
like Mr. MacDonald.
Mr. MacDonald: I started training in mixed martial arts when I was
14, a very young teenager. One of my dreams was to be an Olympic athlete,
being in sports like hockey and soccer growing up as a young kid and
transitioning into martial arts. Obviously it was not an option that mixed
martial arts could be an Olympic sport, but I would love to see it happen.
Maybe it would not happen in my career, although I hope it would, but it is
one of my dreams that mixed martial arts would become an Olympic sport.
Senator Baker: I would just note that Senator White is a former
Senator White: Not a good one.
Senator Baker: To his right, Senator Boisvenu has a black belt in
karate. You are with great friends here, Mr. Wright. I want to congratulate
Tom Wright for the great job he has done in promoting this sport over the
years. He has really done a great job for the sport.
My questions, though, are for Rory MacDonald, who is a hero right across
Canada. Rory MacDonald is a hero, with a great many people who know him
Mr. MacDonald, most of us are aware of boxing and the rules in boxing. We
watch mostly U.S. boxing, and some Montreal boxing. The three-knockdown rule
applies in some cases, and you are counted up to 10. If the fellow gets up,
then they go at it again. They fight again. Is there the same
three-knockdown rule in your sport? Is that similar to boxing?
Mr. MacDonald: There is no three-knockdown rule, and there is no
count out. That is where a lot of the head injuries lie in boxing, where one
of your opponents is knocked down, given a chance to recover and able to
continue, and then repeated head shots for a longer round, usually 12
rounds, I think, in boxing. We have shorter rounds. The way we have it set
up is the referee will jump in and stop the fight immediately if he feels
that the fighter is in danger of being critically injured or whatever it may
be and the fight is over. It is much safer for head injuries and concussions
and so forth. Fighters are not getting punch drunk like you see some of the
older boxers walking away with at the end of their career.
Senator Baker: If I get it correctly then, the boxer gets injured.
He or she, because now there is women's boxing. We see it on television. He
or she is on the floor, unconscious at one point, recovers, stands up, and
then is allowed to continue, the fight resumes, and this can happen three
times in the same round and still the fight continues.
In your sport then, it is the referee who stands in judgment, but you
also have tapping. Describe to us what tapping means.
Mr. MacDonald: Tapping is a form of giving up.
Senator Baker: How do you that? Describe it.
Mr. MacDonald: Just like that. Very easy. Or you could verbally
tap by saying "tap.'' Even a yelp. Just physically tapping, verbally
tapping, or if a scream is given, the referee can come in and use his better
judgment to make the call as a verbal tap out.
Mr. Wright: I could add one thing to it that I think is very
interesting. In the sport of boxing, there really was not an honourable way
to lose or honourable way to give up. There is this notion of throwing in
the towel, but those who have a history in boxing will remember Roberto
Durán saying, "No más, no más,'' and he was almost vilified for that. In
Mr. MacDonald's sport, you can lose with honour. You can tap out. I think
part of that is what is at the root of mixed martial arts or individual
martial arts — karate, judo, tae kwon do, boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling. If
you have had a chance to train in those individual martial arts, you go to a
dojo. You could be very young, male or female. What are some of the
characteristics that you learn that Mr. MacDonald has learned as he has
trained? You learn honour, discipline, sportsmanship and respect. You learn
those kinds of qualities that allow someone in our sport to lose with
honour, because it is okay to lose with honour. That is one of the
differentiating aspects of our sport and one of the ones that makes it quite
Senator Baker: Mr. MacDonald, here you are, underneath, and the
other person has you in some sort of karate hold, like Senator Boisvenu
knows about, and they have you. You are beginning to hurt. What do you do?
You could just tap on that person's back?
Mr. MacDonald: Or on the mat. Anywhere.
Senator Baker: Or you could say "tap.'' What percentage of
matches would you say end in voluntary tapping versus any other way? Half of
them? Would half of them end in tapping?
Mr. MacDonald: I do not know.
Mr. Wright: I would know the number. It is around 30 per cent.
Senator Baker: One third, actually. It is a voluntary motion on
behalf of the person that would end the match. That is incredible.
The Deputy Chair: Senator Baker, I will put you on second round.
Senator Baker: I will tap out.
Senator Joyal: My first question is for Mr. MacDonald. You
mentioned that you have been in this sport since the age of 14, and I think
Mr. Wright mentioned you are now 22 or 23?
Mr. MacDonald: Yes.
Senator Joyal: How do you support yourself financially?
Mr. MacDonald: Luckily, I am with a great company in the UFC. They
have been able to support me financially as a professional athlete.
I am very lucky and blessed that our sport is recognized and that there
are so many great fans supporting it. We have a huge fan base now, and I am
able to make a professional living from my passion. I would do this
regardless of whether money was coming in, because I love it. It is who I
am; it defines me. Ultimate Fighting Championship definitely supports me
financially and I am comfortable making a live from it.
Senator Joyal: How long do you think you will be able to maintain
the practice of this sport?
Mr. MacDonald: My outlook on this sport and life in general is
just to do things until my passion runs out.
Mr. Wright: Randy Couture was 47 when he fought his last fight.
Mr. MacDonald: Yes, he had a very long career. In this sport you
can go on for a very long time. It is a very healthy sport.
Mr. Wright: It is a lifestyle for Mr. MacDonald. Tell the
committee about your training program.
Senator Joyal: Tell us about your average day.
Mr. MacDonald: I am at the gym for at least two to three hours
each day other than Sundays. I take Sundays off for recovery. Regardless of
whether I have a fight coming up, I train to perfect my art. It is my job to
become the best that I can be and to show the best side of me every time I
step into the octagon.
Senator Joyal: You have been doing this for eight or nine years.
Have you ever suffered injuries like contusions? Have you ever had a
Mr. MacDonald: I have had no head injuries. I had knee surgery
last year necessitated by the amount of training I do. Besides that, I have
been perfectly healthy.
Senator Joyal: What kind of measures do you take to protect your
health so that you will be able to have a long career? As you mentioned, you
can participate until your late forties, which means that most of your
career is still ahead of you. You have to ensure that you invest in your
health in order to maintain that career. How do you manage that priority in
Mr. MacDonald: That is very important to me. As you said, I want
to have a long career, and even afterwards I want to be a healthy person
with a healthy lifestyle. It is very important, first, to have a healthy
diet, which I take seriously. Also, in between training sessions, recovery
is very important so that I can get to the next training session without
being tired, hurt or injured. If I do have a small injury, I address it
first and do not try to put my ego first and push through it. I address it.
I see an osteopath or physiotherapist weekly, as well as doing massage
therapy and spa therapy with saunas and cold baths. I do ice therapy and
things like that.
Senator Joyal: We should all subscribe to that lifestyle.
Mr. Wright, you mentioned that there was a meeting in Sweden to establish
an international body. How many European countries are part of the group
that you mentioned earlier? You mentioned the United States.
Mr. Wright: That is an excellent question. I do not know the exact
number, but I can find that for you. We have held events in Germany, the
U.K. and Sweden. We are looking at going to Finland in the future. Our goal
is to ensure that our sport is competed in in every country in the world.
The UFC's content is available in approximately 1 billion homes around
the world in approximately 149 countries and 25 languages. This year we have
already held events in Brazil, Australia, Japan, the U.K. and obviously the
United States. We have three events scheduled for Canada. We will have UFC
149 in Calgary in July, then we will be back in Toronto for UFC 152 in
September, and back in Montreal, for our fifth trip there, in November with
Senator Joyal: How do you perceive Mr. St-Pierre as an athlete?
Mr. MacDonald: Georges Mr. St-Pierre is a mentor to me and a great
role model for my day-to-day life. He is a blessing for me. I moved to
Montreal almost two years ago and he has been a very important figure in my
life as a role model and someone I can learn from in the sport. He is very
professional. He looks after his health and financial affairs. I have
learned many things from him.
Senator White: You referred to your injury, and I checked your
record while you were talking. I see that you missed a fight as a result of
that. Would you agree that in mixed martial arts more injuries tend to occur
from training than fighting?
Mr. MacDonald: Yes, definitely.
Senator White: That is unlike in many other sports where the
injuries come from the competition rather than from training for it.
Mr. MacDonald: Yes. That has to do with the steps taken by the UFC
and the various athletic boards and commissions to protect the athletes when
they are competing. The training is hard on us and we have to take the
As I was saying earlier, diet and recovery between training sessions is
very important. Now that the sport is growing, it is important to get the
message out to younger people on how to be safe during training.
Senator Di Nino: I think that this legislation to amend the
Criminal Code is a no-brainer. I do not think there will be much opposition
to it. I think that Senator Runciman is doing the right thing. It is
important that there be consistency in that kind of initiative.
We are here learning about your sport, which is good, because as we
learn, the public learns. It looks brutal. I have not seen it often, but on
the occasions that I have, I have wondered why they are doing this. From
what I heard yesterday and today, it is probably not as brutal as it looks
and may be less brutal than some other sports. You and other witnesses have
done a good job of communicating that.
Mr. MacDonald said, "I work for a great company.'' Are the athletes on
payroll as opposed to fighting for a prize on a regular basis?
Mr. Wright: All of our athletes are independent contractors. They
sign a contract with the UFC, they compete within our organization, and they
are rewarded for their performance. We go to great lengths to ensure that
they are protected. We are the only professional mixed martial arts
organization globally that has an insurance program for athletes while they
are training. The promoter, as we are called, is required by commissions to
have insurance in place for every professional event to protect athletes if
there is injury.
It took a long time to find a carrier that would underwrite this, but we
felt it was fundamentally important to protect athletes while they are
The other important thing about being an independent contractor is that
Mr. MacDonald is free to go out and build his own brand, to develop his own
sponsors, to work with organizations not only here in Canada but around the
world, and to help build his own brand to ensure he has those kinds of
relationships. It would be appropriate for him to speak to some of your
partners that we do not manage. It is up to Mr. MacDonald. Some fascinating
organizations believe in him as strongly as we believe in him.
Senator Di Nino: How do you make your money?
Mr. MacDonald: My purse is due to my fight. It is a prizefight.
Senator Di Nino: You do not have sponsors that pay you a certain
amount of money to use your name?
Mr. MacDonald: I have certain clothing and apparel sponsors and
others, such as supplements — things like that.
Mr. Wright: Maybe I was not clear. All of our fighters are paid.
It goes back to the old days of boxing, and Senator White will remember this
terminology. There is a show and a win bonus. You are paid to show, which
fundamentally means that he has to arrive for his competition and make his
weight class. If he does not make his weight class, he is not allowed to
fight because that would provide an unlevel playing field. That is why you
want to be sure that happens. If Mr. MacDonald is fighting as a welterweight
at 170 pounds and his competitor comes in at 180 pounds, that is unfair. If
you do not have regulation, then in some places they might say, "He does
not look 10 pounds heavier; let him fight.'' A fighter is paid to show. Mr.
MacDonald is also paid a win bonus.
In addition, the UFC goes to great lengths to provide incentives for the
athletes to perform. As an example of the kind of opportunities available to
a fighter like Mr. MacDonald, at UFC 129 we provide knockout-of-the-night
bonuses and submission-of-the-night bonuses. In the case of the
fight-of-the-night, both the winner and the loser of the fight are paid
bonuses. Those bonuses are significant for a professional fighter like Mr.
MacDonald. In the case of UFC 129, each bonus was $129,000.
Mr. MacDonald is a professional athlete who has committed himself to our
sport. You often hear about professional athletes that make millions of
dollars. We have some athletes in that category, not everyone, obviously.
Certainly, you can make a very strong living in our sport, but you need to
prepare, perform and be successful. Mr. MacDonald does that through his
Senator Di Nino: I have one very quick question about drug
testing. Who sets those standards? Are they consistent with what we know,
for instance with Olympians?
Mr. Wright: I can answer that question. We have our own policies
that we put forward, but it is not we who do the drug testing. The
provincial and state athletic commissions do that. We would test our
fighters to the current extent of World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines. It is
about a level playing field.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you very much, gentlemen. My question is
for both of you. We found out recently that a National Hockey League goalie
had to play four games despite having a concussion. Have you ever had to
fight with an injury?
Mr. MacDonald: No, I have never felt any pressure to fight while
under injury. UFC always understands that we have to be at our healthiest to
perform in the sport. I never felt pressure or anything like that. For
example, I was really proud to hear about Thiago Alves. Right before his
fight, it was reported that he had some sort of head injury and he was
pulled from his fight. UFC helped him to take the proper steps to get him
back to full health. I was happy to hear that. I am amazed because UFC is
very supportive in making sure that we are at our healthiest when we fight.
Senator Chaput: Mr. Wright, in your presentation you said that you
believed in properly trained athletes, fair rules, a regulatory environment,
and the health and safety of our athletes.
My question is this: Would you say that Bill S-209 is a reflection of
your beliefs and that it will regulate what is already taking place? Do you
see it that way?
Mr. Wright: Absolutely. The bill provides a consistent regulatory
environment across all jurisdictions. In the absence of that clarity,
certain jurisdictions can say, "Well, you know, we are not going to
regulate this sport because technically it is illegal.'' However, because
the sport has grown so quickly, it will continue to grow. If it grows in an
unregulated environment, it will grow underground, and that is when
individuals will get hurt because the athletes will not necessarily have
been tested properly beforehand; the referees will not necessarily be
properly trained; and the promoters may not have their requisite EMS
officials and event physicians on staff. They will not take that necessary
rigour to ensure that athletes like Mr. MacDonald are properly protected and
that there is a level playing field; and that is when people will get hurt.
Senator Unger: I would like to go back to drug testing. How often
are random tests done? There are different types of performance-enhancing
drugs. I am wondering specifically what drugs and how often the athletes are
Mr. Wright: It is a great question, thank you. There are some
variations because it is the individual commission in a state or a province
that sets those requirements. Some provinces may be different than others.
At this stage, we do not have a random drug testing policy such that on a
Tuesday at three o'clock in the afternoon we may try to find Mr. MacDonald.
We have approximately 350 athletes under contract around the world. Before
an athlete competes, he is tested. At every single event, on a very random
basis, we choose who is going to be tested.
We always test the main event. Every one of our events has a main event —
usually a championship, which is five rounds, as opposed to a
non-championship, which is three rounds. Both of those competitors are
always tested for the normal regimen of performance-enhancing drugs. As I
said when I was answering an earlier question, we test to WADA standards.
When we have events in Montreal, all of our testing is done by a
WADA-approved lab, so we are trying to stay at the forefront of that part of
the sport; and you have to stay at the forefront.
We continue to develop our drug testing program. We believe strongly in
it. We train our athletes. We have a fighter summit every year where we
bring our athletes in and help them with these kinds of issues and we also
talk to them about training and about how to properly manage their finances.
We do our best to be a responsible partner in the business, and part of that
is having the appropriate kind of drug testing.
Senator Unger: Is it up to the individual provinces to determine
what tests will be done?
Mr. Wright: We have our own standards, but we cannot sit down with
an athletic commission and say, "You have to do this,'' because it is third
party. The answer to your question is yes. In Ontario, for instance, they do
not actually test for performance-enhancing drugs because they have a
different perspective on privacy and a bunch of other things. You would have
to ask them. In the absence of their testing, we do the testing. We bring in
another commission from another province to do the testing for us to ensure
that it is done.
Senator Unger: How many athletes in Canada participate?
Mr. Wright: With the UFC, we have approximately 25. We have a card
in Calgary on July 21. At present, there will be six Canadians in that
Senator Mitchell: Mr. Wright, you mentioned earlier in your
testimony, not in passing but briefly, that you protect your athletes in the
context of income and finances. I was impressed by your mention moments ago
of bringing them together and talking about finances because it is the kind
of sport where there is a possibility for athletes to be exploited.
Are there other steps that you take? For example, do managers of fighters
like Mr. MacDonald have to be sanctioned or licensed by your organization?
Are there other steps that you take to protect them financially?
Mr. Wright: That is a great question. I do not know the answer
about whether they have to be licensed. Someone here could answer that.
The Deputy Chair: Would you please come to the table and identify
Lex McMahon, Agent, Alchemist Management: My name is Lex McMahon,
and I am Mr. MacDonald's agent. Currently, in mixed martial arts there is no
standard or qualifying body, unlike the NFL, the NBA and the NHL. It is
incumbent upon the industry to self-police at this time. If the UFC got
behind it, it would be wonderful to have a sanctioning body or requirements
such as, for example, the NFL does a master's degree — something that would
help to provide some protection for the athletes, because we are entrusted
as managers with a tremendous degree of responsibility. In our sport, which
is growing, there needs to be a greater emphasis on, and I do believe you
are seeing it, a higher level of business acumen and sophistication within
the people who do my job to support what Mr. Macdonald does. The UFC does a
good job of policing as well. If someone does not do their job or if ethical
questions are raised, the UFC makes it difficult for that person to be
effective in the industry because they are trying to protect the best
interests of their athletes.
Mr. Wright: I am thrilled that you asked that question. Frankly,
one of my take-aways will be to talk about this. I have been in other
professional sports where it is mandated. It is a really strong kind of
standard. We want rigor and standards in our regulations, so we should have
rigor and standards with the individuals that represent our athletes.
Senator Mitchell: Generally in a sport like this, there would be
two ways to prevent injury. One is to be fit and really well trained and the
second is to have good technique. You can train your own fitness, to some
degree, by going to the gym by yourself. It is nice to have a coach, but you
do not need to have one.
When it comes to technique, you absolutely need coaches. Mr. MacDonald is
at a level of accomplishment and finance that he can probably hire who he
needs to hire to get excellent coaching.
When you are starting out at the age of 14, 15 or 16 years, how do you
get the technique coaching you need so that when you walk into that ring,
you will not be hurt?
Mr. MacDonald: I was lucky enough to come across a great man, one
of my best friends and mentors, David Lee out of Kelowna, B.C. He has been a
major role model in my life. He probably saved my life at one point. He
showed me the ropes and took me from a kid who knew nothing about mixed
martial arts and turned me into a professional athlete and a strong man. I
was blessed by God to be in that position. I hope that answers your
Senator Angus: Perhaps you could help me, for the record. Although
I am a very keen sports person, I am not that familiar with MMA. I am
familiar with the term and even the spectacle of what is euphemistically
called "extreme fighting'' and certain kinds of professional wrestling. I
consider both to be show business as opposed to sport. Therefore, I want you
to explain what Mr. MacDonald does, and I do not care who answers — you are
the relevant people. I assume that it is a pure sport such that there is no
acting or faking involved. However, an explanation would help for the people
watching this proceeding and for my own edification, if we might be helping
you to have this sport accepted by the International Olympic Committee as a
Mr. Wright: We often get compared to that. One of the challenges
we have with a new sport is education. There is a lot of awareness of mixed
martial arts but not a lot of understanding. Frankly, professional wrestling
and professional mixed martial arts could not be further apart. In
professional wrestling, if Mr. MacDonald and I were in a match, Mr.
MacDonald would know he is winning and I would know he is winning because it
is already arranged. It is spectacle entertainment. In mixed martial arts,
it is the best competitor, the best athlete, the most skilled athlete who
wins; and that is why it is sport.
Professional wrestling, as you know, is spectacle. Amateur wrestling is
an Olympic sport. For Greco-Roman wrestling, we will send men and women to
London in several months. That is pure sport because the more skilled
athlete will win.
Senator Angus: What I thought of as extreme boxing may be what you
do; I do not know. I always thought it was more like professional wrestling.
Mr. Wright: It is not.
Mr. MacDonald: No, it is completely different. It is two
competitors, and there is no pre-determined outcome. There are two
competitors trying to beat each other to be the victor. Wrestling is a show
where it is pre-determined who wins. There is skill involved, but martial
arts are completely different than an act or a show. It is competitors
competing against each other to be the victor.
Senator Angus: In addition to the tap tap tap, 30 per cent, give
or take, way to conclude a match, I assume there are judges who declare a
winner or a loser based on performance. Is that how it works?
Mr. Wright: As in boxing, you can win by knockout and by technical
knockout. You can win by decision, you can win by submission and you can win
by tapping out.
The Deputy Chair: I have a question about this bill. The way it is
set up, the proposed change inserts the word "feet'' in the definition of
prizefight. It would now mean "an encounter or fight with fists, hands or
There are a number of exceptions: three for amateur athletes and one for
a boxing contest or mixed martial arts contest. We heard yesterday from the
commissioner for Edmonton, Mr. Reid, that this may be short-sighted because
sports, as you pointed out, Mr. Wright, keep emerging. He suggested that we
would do better by simply referring to "combative sports'' rather than only
mixed martial arts because of, in his view, the very realistic possibility
that beyond the pure sport that you operate, other sports will come along,
and unless they are covered by this definition, they will not be covered by
this definition and, therefore, they will grow in unregulated ways. What do
you think about that?
Mr. Wright: It is an interesting question. My perspective is that
the current lexicon for our sport, and for the world of combative sports, is
mixed martial arts. It is clearly the sport that is growing on a global
basis. It is the one growing and accepted here in Canada. My feeling as it
relates to this legislation is that the simpler and more concise the
definition, the better. I will obviously defer to the wisdom of this
committee, but the bill was drafted to include mixed martial arts, and my
perspective would be to leave that way.
The Deputy Chair: You would be the only beneficiaries of it,
Mr. Wright: It is important for you to understand that I am here
representing the sport of mixed martial arts. Every time I have been to
Ottawa and every time I go across this country, I try to build the sport of
mixed martial arts. Is it self-serving? Of course it is. However, I would
also tell you that there are hundreds of other organizations that put on
events in mixed martial arts that benefit from this and this environment.
The Deputy Chair: I did not mean to sound as if I were criticizing
you, Mr. Wright. From what little I know of the subject, what you have
accomplished is quite remarkable. I in no way intended to detract from that.
I am just looking at the bill and wondering what is the best form of the
Mr. Wright: Understood.
The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, I wish we had time for a
second round, but we do not. On your behalf, I will thank both of these
witnesses, Mr. Wright and Mr. MacDonald. It has been interesting to have you
We are pleased now to welcome as a witness, from Rockdoc Consulting Inc.,
Dr. Sam Gutman, President and Chief Medical Officer. Thank you for being
with us. This has been a voyage of discovery for most of us on this
committee, and you will take us further along the way. I think you have an
opening statement, and the floor is yours.
Dr. Samuel Gutman, President and Chief Medical Officer, Rockdoc
Consulting Inc.: Thank you for inviting me to be here. For Canadian
physicians, one of the tasks that many of us do not have the opportunity to
perform is to advocate for public policy, and it is one that I take very
seriously. The opportunity to speak to you here today is very gratifying for
me. I thank you again for the opportunity.
My background is emergency room physician. I have been an emergency
doctor for 21 years. I am a clinical associate professor at UBC and had
involvement in creating a research program around mass participation
sporting events and mass gatherings. It started as a side interest that has
evolved into a central interest, providing medical care at mass
participation events. Elite competitions have become a passion of mine. I
had the opportunity both at the director level and the field of play level
to be a physician helping to design policy and also provide care for
professional, elite and amateur sports. This has included triathlon,
marathon, boxing, mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, kick-boxing, tae kwon do,
karate and a number of others. I also had the opportunity to be appointed
the commission doctor for the Vancouver Athletic Commission, which was the
sanctioning body for the UFC 115, which Mr. MacDonald was a competitor in,
in June of 2010. At that time, I had the opportunity to work with the
commission to understand in great detail and advise them in detail how they
should conduct a sanctioning of a professional mixed martial arts event.
They had very little history or experience in doing this, so it was an
opportunity for me to again advocate for the safety of athletes.
In my experience as an ER doctor, I have had the opportunity to be
exposed to traumatic injuries as a result of sport. That is a common part of
what we do as ER doctors. Anecdotally, my experience has shown me that the
majority of traumatic injuries that we see are in fact not the result of
combat sports. Much more frequently we see things like hockey, football,
skiing, mountain biking. I would say that, especially in Canada, no one
would want to make sports such as hockey illegal under the Criminal Code. At
its highest levels, the NHL, injuries happen frequently.
Mixed martial arts is an elite sport, perhaps the pinnacle of fitness of
any of the sports that I have had the opportunity to be intimately involved
with, and there are injuries in the sport. There are injuries in many
sports. Ultimately, from my perspective, we should not be considering
whether this is illegal but rather to remove that constraint such that
professional mixed martial arts is able to be a beacon and a role model for
amateur sports. It should be governed, it should be sanctioned, and in that
way it will enable this growing sport amongst our population to be
sanctioned and thus protect the safety of the many people who participate at
the levels below the elite level and below the professional level.
This bill, in removing it from a prohibition under the Criminal Code, is
very well conceived and appropriate. Thank you.
Senator Runciman: Thank you for being here. We did hear some
testimony yesterday with respect to comparing boxing with MMA, and some of
the testimony was that boxers are two times more likely to suffer a
concussion than an MMA competitor. Does that sound accurate to you?
Dr. Gutman: It does, and they spoke this morning about other ways
to be victorious in a contest other than inflicting blows to the head.
Senator Runciman: I think I saw in your bio that you are a
ringside doctor as well?
Dr. Gutman: Yes.
Senator Runciman: In how many areas or jurisdictions in the
province have you performed as a ringside doctor?
Dr. Gutman: Each is municipally regulated in B.C., so I would say
six or seven.
Senator Runciman: I am talking about provincially.
Dr. Gutman: Within the province, probably six different
Senator Runciman: Within B.C., not outside of B.C.?
Dr. Gutman: That is correct.
Senator Runciman: I am wondering about the regulatory environment
in B.C. How does that look? These are not all UFC events.
Dr. Gutman: No, and one of the challenges is the patchwork of
regulatory bodies and their lack of experience. There is no formal governing
body with regard to MMA. You are probably familiar with Boxing Canada and
Boxing BC, and they perform a function that really ensures the safety in
terms of match-making, weight classes, regulations, training of referees and
ensuring that there is appropriate medical care ringside. That does not
exist in mixed martial arts. There is a voluntary, ad hoc committee that has
come together called MMA B.C. that has no standing other than as an ad hoc
committee advocating for appropriate rules and standards. The challenge is
that those do not exist, so at this point, at the amateur levels, there are
people who, for example, will compete on a Friday night in one jurisdiction
and a Saturday night in another, which is completely inappropriate and a
risk to them. At this point, there is no governance. B.C.'s provincial
government is now considering such a regulatory commission, which is, I
think a great step forward.
Senator Runciman: Would many of these bouts be classified as being
unsanctioned or underground?
Dr. Gutman: Yes.
Senator Runciman: The athletic commissioner from Ontario was a
witness yesterday, and he suggested an amendment that dealt with the general
penalties for not being an authorized or endorsed event and talked about
perhaps looking at it as being indictable, as it is now a summary offence,
really making it more expensive to engage in that kind of activity. Do you
have any views on that?
Dr. Gutman: I think that would act to further drive it underground
at this point, because there is no option to have it properly sanctioned.
Until there is an option, criminalizing it would force it further
underground and put athletes at even greater risk.
Senator Runciman: In jurisdictions where there is an athletic
commission in place at the provincial level, do you think it could be
Dr. Gutman: Indeed. There would be no reason not to sanction an
event, so one who chose not to I would say should be subject to penalty.
Senator Angus: Doctor, I am intrigued by this company you have,
Rockdoc Consulting Inc. What is that all about?
Dr. Gutman: Twenty years ago, I was fortunate to be asked to be
the backstage doctor for a very famous band, and I enjoyed it very much and
volunteered my services again and again. It became a business, when they
would request me specifically and my team, and they colloquially referred to
me as the rock doc. Hence, when the company was incorporated, it was Rockdoc
Consulting, and it has grown from being a doctor to singers and performers
into sports and mass gatherings.
Senator Angus: Is it you or a team of doctors?
Dr. Gutman: I have a team of about 700 health care professionals
in various jurisdictions that come together. This past weekend we did the
Vancouver Marathon, the largest one in Canada. I was the medical director
and we had 200 staff caring for the athletes. It is a passion and a motto of
our group that our goal is to help people complete what they set out to
In this context, if a fighter has trained for months and months to
compete, our job or goal is to ensure that he safely completes that
Senator Angus: You are the medical director and you have 700
caregivers. Are there other professional MDs?
Dr. Gutman: Yes.
Senator Angus: Are there other medical people in it? Quite a few?
Dr. Gutman: It is a loose affiliation in the sense they come
together on an event-by-event basis, but we have a number of doctors who
work with us as well.
Senator Angus: Are you a member of the Canadian Medical
Dr. Gutman: I am.
Senator Angus: I guess you can anticipate my question. We
understand that the CMA is against this legislation and against legalization
of MMA and other combative sports, including boxing. What is your view as a
member, and were you ever consulted? I put this same question to the doctor
who was here yesterday.
Dr. Gutman: In fact, that ban originated in B.C. with the B.C.
Medical Association. At no point was I individually consulted, and I believe
very few people were consulted, especially anyone who has any familiarity
with the sport. It originated with a neurologist who appropriately deals
with concussions. I will use the phrase, "To a hammer, the whole world is a
nail.'' This gentleman was well meaning. He was intending to reduce
concussions in sport. From my personal experience, there are many more
concussions from snowboarding than mixed martial arts. Should we ban
snowboarding? I say of course not.
I did not support that ban. In fact, you probably located me because I
received a fair amount of publicity for the fact that I did not support it.
I came out publicly against it, recognizing that by banning something you
drive it underground instead of promoting the safety and security of
Senator Angus: Thank you very much.
Senator White: I will try to put three questions in one so I do
not get in trouble. Typically when we look at how sports progress in Canada,
they become an amateur sport and work their way into professional sports.
Along the way they are looked at to see if they have the opportunity to
become an Olympic sport. When we look at mixed martial arts, it became a
professional sport around the world — back to Gracie 30 years ago — and it
has reversed back. We are seeing amateur MMA in Canada. We are seeing
children participating in the sport. We had an athlete today who started at
14 years of age. How do we, from a sport perspective, take it back, driving
it out as an amateur sport and making it an Olympic sport? I see it as a
pure sport. People talk about it being many sports thrown together, but I do
not agree; I see it as a pure sport.
The second part of that — because you are a doctor, I will ask this
question of you — is we have some boxing commissions across Canada
suggesting we should remove headgear from amateur boxing. I would like you
to also give an opinion about headgear use, in particular when it comes to
boxing, the continuous pounding these athletes get, and the fact some of
them are very young as amateurs. Are you willing to speak to that? I will
look for a supplemental on my third question because I am starting to feel
Dr. Gutman: In relation to headgear, there is new evidence
suggesting that children and teens are particularly vulnerable to
concussions, more so than was previously identified. Certainly there is a
risk of concussions in boxing. There is no question of that. There is also
little question that headgear reduces that risk. I would be very much
against any move to reduce the use of headgear, especially in the amateur
ranks where scoring and technique is really the focus. Inflicting knockouts
is not the priority. In all honesty, my preference is to provide ringside
care at amateur events versus professional because I prefer the technical
aspects of it versus the pure knockout. I would be very much against that.
With regard to pro sport moving backward to amateur, again it has a lot
to do with education. Mr. Wright was speaking earlier about educating and
creating awareness of the sport. There is a perception that participants in
the sport are less than civilized individuals, which could not be further
from the truth. My experience with mixed martial arts competitors is that
they are a tremendously respectful, dedicated and heartfelt group of people
in contrast to other professional and elite athletes, who are not
necessarily always that way. Mixed martial artists are, within their
culture, very professional and quality people.
Educate people that these are elite athletes and this is a sport. It is
sometimes shocking to turn on the television and see someone covered in
blood. It is difficult to get past that. The reality is these are often the
smallest injuries and are the least significant ones. Perception is what it
is. Some people find it distasteful. Education is the key to that, and to
understand that this is a true sport. Some would argue at its purest form,
this is sport.
Senator Dagenais: For a few months now, we have been hearing about
the increase in the number of hockey-related concussions, which could turn
into a real concern for athletes. Generally speaking, these injuries are
Would you say there is a difference in the type of concussion an athlete
playing hockey might suffer versus someone playing combat sports? Everyone
knows it can happen — these are fights — but can these injuries really be
Dr. Gutman: I would not say that concussion is accidental. By
virtue of the fact that a knockout is a methodology to win a competition or
be victorious, by definition a knockout is disruption of brain function,
which would be consistent with concussion. It is actually, in part, one way
to be victorious.
It strikes me that in hockey, where fighting is allowed, frequently
players are concussed as a result of a fight. That is somehow overlooked in
comparison to concussions that occur as a result of play, contact, elbows or
what have you. Would those concussions — as a result of fighting in hockey —
be considered to be accidental? Different goals, but ultimately to answer
your question directly, concussion is not accidental.
Senator Mitchell: Dr. Gutman, I am interested in the concussion
issue. Is there some sort of limit to how many times someone could be
knocked out in a series of fights or lose a series of fights by knockouts,
and if it is three or four they cannot fight again anymore? Is it a
case-by-case test of their faculties before they are allowed to come back?
Dr. Gutman: There is no numeric rule that I am aware of in any of
the sanctioning bodies. It is well known that the effects of concussions are
cumulative. With each subsequent one the symptoms tend to be worse, the
recovery tends to be longer and the ease with which another one can be
sustained increases; it is easier to get them as you go on.
Part of the process in boxing — and ideally in the professional ranks of
MMA —is an understanding and a longitudinal view of a competitor. They are
examined and a set of records follows them. There is a body that will
enforce a ban from competition for a period of time. It will track that
prohibition so they are not able to compete again. That does not exist in a
reliable way, certainly in the amateur mixed martial arts. It exists in the
professional, but not to the standard that it does in boxing.
Senator Mitchell: I am aware that in minor hockey, now, certainly
in professional football, here and in the U.S., there are very sophisticated
tests. They even have an iPad app that they use, if you can imagine that, to
assess post- concussion or the status of somebody. You can have a concussion
without even knowing you have one. Are these fighters checked at the
professional level rigorously before they go into a fight? What more can be
done at the amateur level to address that?
Dr. Gutman: They are checked both annually and more frequently.
The technology and the science are continuing to evolve rapidly. In truth,
the sports federations are not quite at the cutting edge of the science.
There is some new technology that I am familiar with that gives a functional
representation of brain function. CT scans and MRIs will provide a
structural look at the brain but will not tell you about function. There is
technology that will give that function analysis. In my view, that should be
done prior to any competition as a baseline for anyone in combat sports. I
would advocate it for any young child who is playing hockey. I am very
involved in minor hockey. I would recommend it to anyone, although it is not
widely available as yet. It is leading-edge technology, but in three to five
years this will be considered standard practice; and it should be applied to
Senator Joyal: Welcome, Dr. Gutman. On the health of the
competitors, would you say that the regulations that apply to the practice
of that sport are in sync with the best practices that you, as a doctor,
would recommend? Since it is a rather recent sport, do you consider the
regulations that apply to the practice of the sport to be the best that we
can expect to protect the health of those who practise mixed martial arts?
Dr. Gutman: At this time, I would say that yes, they are the
standard of care. The standard of care is evolving rapidly. It is incumbent
on the federations or the sanctioning bodies to keep up with the technology
and the science. The difficulty is that their hands are tied, to some
extent. They require that a certain number of tests be done and that a
licensed physician review a case. There is a great degree of variability in
the knowledge base of different physicians and their exposure to things such
as mixed martial arts.
What an average family physician might know to look for or to screen for
in a pre-competition physical might not be what someone who has a great deal
of experience would look for. It is a difficult task.
Senator Joyal: Who will bridge that gap between what you know as a
professional in the field and what a family doctor knows? A family doctor
might not know all the ramifications of what today's science can produce in
results that would be better in sync with best practices to protect the
health of those athletes.
Dr. Gutman: There are two things. First, as I mentioned before,
the professional ranks form role models for the amateurs and for the public
in general. The standards applied at the level of UFC, NHL or pro football
have a trickle- down effect. Those are the standards that the professionals
follow. Therefore, the amateurs and elite amateurs should follow similar
Second, it is probably the responsibility of the sanctioning bodies to
produce educational guidelines that could be distributed to family doctors
and competitors going for their physical exams. There could be a standard
form and an education document with it to say what doctors should look for
and the recommendations. To get those recommendations requires expert
Senator Joyal: There is an experimental project happening at
McGill University whereby students on McGill's football team are volunteers
in a research project to evaluate the health risks involved in football. I
do not know how far along they are because I have not paid direct attention
to it. Such a study would be important. In developing a sport like the MMA,
we have the capacity to follow up with the best science conclusions in terms
of how to advise those who participate of the risks and how to manage those
risks. That is the way to achieve best results in protecting the health of
With your experience base, how do you see that developing? Who is
responsible for developing the kind of expertise that would be helpful to
the federation, all those who have management responsibilities and the
Dr. Gutman: I reflect back to my experience when I was asked to be
a ringside doctor for an event. I said yes and then spent the next two or
three weeks trying to educate myself on what I should be doing because there
were no guidelines, no mentoring.
Senator Joyal: There was no university chair. In Canada we have
centres of excellence on this and that, but no university has developed the
priority to come to terms with that.
Dr. Gutman: There is a large amount of research, as you mentioned,
on concussions and concussion prevention. Coalescing that and bridging
between the science and the understanding of the sports are missing. Again,
I take seriously the opportunity to advocate and to help develop policy. It
is something that I would personally have interest in.
Senator Di Nino: Is the standard care that you are talking about
consistent nationally and, as far as you know, internationally?
Dr. Gutman: I would say that it approximates consistency. There is
no agreed-upon unified standard of care. Having said that, many reflect back
to these commissions that are the most experienced in sanctioning combat
sports, which would be New Jersey and Nevada. The standards adopted there
are generally adopted everywhere else. There is an approximation, but there
is no formal agreement on what those standards would be in all
Senator Joyal: Is there a way to bridge your position, which I
understand is not the view of the Canadian Medical Association, with the
previous discussion we had. Medicine is an exact science, unlike sociology
where you can apply your own biases, ideas or viewpoints. I rely on a doctor
because it is scientific.
I am puzzled to see how much, on the very basis of what you say and your
testimony, we can reconcile the position of the Canadian Medical Association
and the scientific knowledge that should be gathered, understood and
implemented in the regulations so that we reduce the levels of injuries that
we notice are important in those kinds of sports.
Dr. Gutman: We would refer to medicine as an art versus a science
internally, but I defer.
The Canadian Medical Association is one voice. It is certainly not the
only voice in Canada. Irrespective of the medical association's opinion,
there are many physicians and experts who have an interest both in the sport
and in the safety of athletes. I think there are many people and physicians
who would be interested in working with the governing bodies, the
commissions with provincial jurisdictions and with professional groups such
as the UFC to ensure safety and build consensus guidelines.
Senator Boisvenu: I practised karate for 20 years, so I know there
are some inherent injuries when you compete in that sport.
Have there been any studies on the long-term effects of combat sports?
Karate and boxing, for instance, can seriously affect a person's joints, one
reason being the impact of the extensions at the elbow and knee.
Has there been any long-term research on these athletes and the potential
costs to the health-care system?
These injuries are, after all, permanent.
Dr. Gutman: I am not aware of a huge or extensive body of
literature on specifically injuries resulting from combat sports. We know
the growth of this particular MMA has been very rapid and recent. The
history extends back only to about 1993 — in terms of knowledge that is
applicable — because there was a change in rules since the implementation of
what is referred to as the unified rules of mixed martial arts. There was a
substantial change and prohibition of some risky manoeuvres. The literature
is growing but there is not a great degree of it.
In terms of cost, I am not aware of any information on that. Anecdotally,
my experience has been that I have seen, in a number of urban and suburban
emergency departments over 20 years, very few injuries as a result of combat
sports in general, including karate, tae kwon do and others in contrast to
rugby, football, soccer skiing, mountain biking, hockey and football, which
are the predominant source of traumatic sports injury that we see in
proportion. In terms of cost, I would say it is fairly low.
Senator Boisvenu: I am concerned because more and more people are
said to be practising the sport, especially young people. When that happened
in hockey and soccer, we saw a long-term monitoring of players so that
safety measures could be adopted and these individuals would not become
burdens on the health-care system at 30 or 40 years old.
A long-term study of the effects this sport has on the human body and
athletes is warranted, is it not?
That would ensure equipment requirements and regulations were in place to
prevent these long-term injuries.
Dr. Gutman: Certainly, it would be wise to have surveillance over
the long term. Unfortunately, that is difficult to do without a sanctioning
body that has the ability to access the totality of participation. For
example, every child who plays hockey in Canada is registered with the
provincial subordinate of Hockey Canada. We do not have that in mixed
martial arts yet. It would be beneficial. Of course, the follow-on to that
is the funding requirement to conduct the study, where that originates and
the stakeholders who would fund that. In principle, it makes a great degree
of sense. Those of us who participate on the safety side of the sports are
trying to advocate for better rules and supervision. The single most
important safety feature of a mixed martial arts contest is the referee. If
the referee is well effected and well trained, the safety of those
participants is maximal, his primary responsibility and concern.
The point of leverage to best protect the athletes is educating referees,
which again falls under the jurisdiction of a governing body.
Senator White: I appreciate your referring on a number of
occasions to team sports and referees. In our discussion yesterday and again
today, we talk about the importance of the referee — the person who makes
decisions on the field or on the ice when somebody might be hurt. Yet, in
hockey and football in this country, we take the injured athlete to the
coach or the trainer run by the team to determine whether they should
With concussions in hockey, why have we not moved to a level where a
referee is trained to make some of those decisions and tell an athlete you
are off the ice or field, without allowing those who have something to gain,
which is the coach, to make the decision?
Dr. Gutman: This is where combat sports are leading because the
ringside doctor has no affiliation with the promoter or the referee. Mixed
martial arts is leading, in that sense.
There are challenges around the education and training of the referees,
but some of the hockey bodies are moving in the direction of trying to at
least provide objective guidelines that can be used to assess athletes. The
NHL has a concussion protocol. They have the quiet room where they take
people off the ice and do an assessment, as opposed to the former good old
days where it was sit on the bench and count a number of fingers and you are
okay to play.
Senator White: We still have 14-year-old kids who have concussions
going to the bench because winning the game is more important, sometimes,
than the health of the individual. In other sports, we have not progressed
when it comes to the referee on the ice or field and making some of those
Dr. Gutman: I agree with you. The challenges in many cases in
minor hockey are that the referees are 14 or 15 and the players are 8 or 10.
I do not think they are capable of making those decisions even in the ideal.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much, Dr. Gutman. It has been
helpful for us to hear from you. There are so many things to think about. We
very much appreciate the fact that you were with us today.
Our witness now is Mr. Ryan Leef, who is the MP for Yukon but, in terms
of this study, he is also experienced in the field of mixed martial arts.
Mr. Leef, I believe you have a statement, and the floor is yours.
Ryan Leef, Member of Parliament, Yukon: Thank you, Madam Chair,
and thank you to the honourable senators for having me here today. I was
able to sit in on some of the previous testimony, so I will try not to
duplicate anything that they have already mentioned. After my remarks, I am
certainly willing to answer any questions.
I am obviously honoured to testify today in respect to Bill S-209, An Act
to amend the Criminal Code (prize fights). Today I am able to speak from a
long-standing athletic and coaching background, including from the
perspective of a mixed martial arts athlete, having fought in two
professional bouts with the Armageddon Fighting Championships centred out of
The changes to the Criminal Code will serve to recognize the fastest
growing sport in North America in terms of participation, in training as a
fitness regime, on the amateur and professional stage, and in terms of a fan
base and viewership realm.
This recognition will further enhance the continued maturation of an
already progressive and regulated sport, which will lead to ensuring the
continued safety of participants through gear improvement, medical checks,
health standards and the like, certainty for promoters, municipalities and
provinces, and support and direction to governing commissions, boards and
Much has been said about the safety of mixed martial arts. In its present
day, Madam Chair and committee members, I can say from having participated
in a number of sports on a competitive level, including representing Canada
as a distance runner, that I have never been subjected to qualifying
standards of competency, health and fitness as I have as a mixed martial
arts athlete. Prior to being accepted for a competition, I was required to
undergo and submit full medical checks, blood tests, HIV, hepatitis B,
hepatitis C, an MRI and provide a dossier of experience and supporting
references. Twenty- four hours prior to my competition, I was required to
weigh in and, upon meeting the strictly regulated weight class range, I had
to undergo another medical examination and a medical review of my previously
submitted information by medical staff appointed by the provincial athletic
commission. Once these steps were successful, I was granted a licence to
participate. This licence ceases once the contest is over. Most
jurisdictions suspend those licences for 35 days after the conclusion of the
event. This is done as an added precaution to ensure the athlete's safety.
The standards in place are precursors to athletic ability, as it takes
the highest levels of health and fitness to get through the licensing
procedures alone, and these standards are not taken lightly by anyone.
Promoters match athletes not only in weight classes but with closely
ranked opponents. In each contest, there are several ways in which it can be
concluded. I am sure the committee has already explored those. I heard Mr.
MacDonald and Mr. Wright talk about some of those ways a contest could be
I can state first-hand that progression in sport comes from progression
in attitudes. Bill S-209 is a progression in attitude and reflective of the
greater public and athletic acceptance and perception of mixed martial arts
I well recall the days of coaches and teachers encouraging a bouncing
style of stretching before we warmed up our muscles as an acceptable daily
routine for exercise preparation. When I became a level 1 track and field
coach in the late 1980s, we were taught strategies for preparation, training
and racing that are no longer conventional practices. It was, however,
thanks to the legitimacy of the sport, attention by athletes, coaches,
sports medicine physicians, governing bodies, commissions, referees, judges
and even the fans that we continually sought greater knowledge, better ways
of training and competing and overall safety.
Bill S-209 will take the next step to ensure the existing steps of the
leagues of MMA enthusiasts, athletes and proponents continue to improve and
contribute to our long-standing and rich history of competition and
celebration of human potential through sport.
Thank you, committee members and Madam Chair, and at this time I will be
willing to answer any questions you may have.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Leef.
Senator Runciman: I do not have a lot of questions, Mr. Leef. You
and I have discussed this subject on a few occasions.
How many professional fights have you been involved with?
Mr. Leef: I had two professional fights.
Senator Runciman: How many amateur?
Mr. Leef: Three amateur fights. I started my professional career,
as it were, limited as it was, at the young age of 36.
Senator Runciman: Three amateur and two professional?
Mr. Leef: Correct.
Senator Runciman: None of those while you have been a Member of
Mr. Leef: No, I fear those days are over now; it is absolutely a
Senator Runciman: I am sure many of us would have preferred to see
you at that charity with Mr. Trudeau as the representative of the
Conservative party, but, in any event, that is history.
You started at a relatively late point in your life. What attracted you
to the sport?
Mr. Leef: It is an interesting history, and I will try to wrap it
up in a tight bow. I had done defensive tactics instruction for the justice
department in the Yukon for years. With the evolution of the sport and how
quickly it was growing, it raised questions in the general public about
everything from officer safety to even women's safety.
I ran a number of courses for women's self-defence in the Yukon. With the
emergence of that, there is uncertainty, as Mr. Wright pointed out. There is
attention but not a lot of knowledge or education around it. I think it was
incumbent upon me, as an instructor for the justice department for law
enforcement and a person who supports safety for women in our community, to
talk about the emergence of mixed martial arts and what people saw as a
new-found skill in fighting in an intelligent way. I do not think there was
any better way for me to deal with the realities of mixed martial arts and
the growth of that sport, the kind of athletes who participate in it and the
realities about the regulations and safety structures in place and bring
that back to the audience at the time that I was teaching. Whether that was
conservation officer staff, correctional staff, sheriffs, park officers or
women's self-defence, it just seemed to be the best way for me to get that
first-hand experience. I have been competitive by nature, and I was not
getting any younger, either, so I sort of had to get involved two feet deep
or not at all.
Senator Runciman: You mentioned that you were teaching defensive
tactics to a variety of organizations. Have you been trained in judo or
karate? You must have had some background.
Mr. Leef: I have a background in Aikijutsu and high school
wrestling. As Mr. Wright indicated, it is the emergence of many things. I
had taken a number of different systems from PPCT to modern-day things like
Krav Maga and Jim Wagner's system. It is an integrated background, which
lent itself to my dossier, as it were, to be engaged in that. Before I was
able to enter into a competition with the Armageddon Fighting Championships,
I had to demonstrate to them that I had competency, fitness, skill, ability
and health to be accepted.
Senator Runciman: Where is Armageddon centred?
Mr. Leef: They are centred in Victoria, British Columbia — Colwood
— but B.C.
Senator Runciman: Are they comparable to UFC on a smaller scale?
Mr. Leef: It is a much smaller scale, and I think Mr. Wright
alluded to that in a question from the chair. They were speaking on behalf
of mixed martial arts but representing an organization. There are dozens of
smaller promoters across Canada that run very small things that might have a
crowd of 200 people and might be run in a local gym or an arena, right up to
the UFC that has 55,000 fans. Armageddon Fighting Championships was one that
I would call a medium-sized promotion in our country that would typically
draw about 45,000 fans to an arena, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 9
million to 10 million people on pay-per-view watching. It was a significant
organization, but not as big as the UFC, which might aptly be described as
the NHL of mixed martial arts. It is comparable in that regard, when you
have the promotions, to the Canadian analogy of hockey. You have the NHL,
then Junior A, Junior B, and all these farm leagues going on.
I think that driving the point and importance of Bill S-209 is that with
offshoot companies that come along and want to get into a lucrative and
fast-growing market, it has never been more essential to have regulation and
recognition of it. We do not want people to capitalize on the growth of this
sport and the tremendous popularity of it simply to make a buck and risk
athletes' safety, breaking the existing laws and safety regulations around
it simply to rip off a quick promotion and make a fortune. People, no matter
where you hold these venues, will come and watch them, and we want to ensure
they are regulated, controlled and safe and that they enhance the sport, not
Senator Runciman: In your limited career, did you suffer any
Mr. Leef: I had a couple of black eyes, one in my last fight, and
I think I had three stitches in one, so nothing. I can tell you from being a
long-distance runner I suffered longer layoffs and injuries pulling a
hamstring that would stake seven or eight months to heal.
Senator Angus: Welcome to the Senate. I gather you support this
bill ardently. Do you sense there is a lot of support in the House of
Commons for it, amongst your colleagues?
Mr. Leef: Yes, that would be my sense. Anyone who has any
trepidation about it is more along the lines of not fully understanding it.
I think the most legitimate concerns around it now are the promotion of
something that might be misinterpreted, quite frankly, by the youth in our
society, where they have exposure and grab on to this as a fan base but then
start practising that out in the schoolyards. I have always said that is not
a reason to not provide the regulations and promote the sport. It is up to
us as legislators and parents to properly message and educate our kids in
what they do.
I say to my colleagues that have concern in that regard that we cannot
safely blame Xbox for your children being obese. We need to take
responsibility as parents and educate them about proper times around its use
and promote the diet and health of our kids. We need to ensure that we
regulate this sport and we provide the proper education around it.
I, for one, take steps as both a mixed martial artist and a member of
Parliament to go into the schools and run an anti-bullying program with
mixed martial arts athletes. It is a great way for parents and students to
understand what is going on and understand the self-control, self-discipline
and all the things that come from traditional martial arts and mixed martial
arts. That is well received. I find it better received because the youth are
interested in it. We are not going to stop that, so we need to ensure that
we are able to control and regulate it in a proper manner that delivers the
education we want them to have around the sport.
Senator Angus: You described all the arduous steps you had to go
through to get your licence to engage in those fights that you described.
Which was tougher, getting the licence or getting elected to the House of
Mr. Leef: I can tell you there are always comparisons in life, and
it is important to note that sport plays a tremendous role in people's
lives. It certainly set the course for my life, whether through running or
mixed martial arts — a competitive attitude but respectful attitude. It
teaches dedication, commitment. It is necessary for you to have a healthy
lifestyle, and I have always said, "A healthy mind and a healthy body.'' My
training and commitment to sport prepared me for a long and daunting
campaign, as an example, with limited sleep. You understand those things.
I am always a strong proponent of sport, no matter what we are talking
about, in terms of pro-social behaviour and positive lifestyle choices for
people. I think to some degree they were comparable. One set me up for the
Senator Angus: The real question I have is a man who was able to
present himself to the people of Canada, to represent them here, a man who
was so active with these different law enforcement agencies as an adviser,
as you describe, how could you engage in what was basically an illegal
Mr. Leef: I think there is the confusion —
Senator Angus: My one reservation here, I realize this has become
an extremely popular sport. So far I am learning a lot and am quite
interested in the whole element. Society changes, as is the nature of the
beast. The reason we need this bill is to legitimatize the thing, but in the
meantime you had five fights. I assume they were in an underground
Mr. Leef: As I was saying, with my professional fights, my last
fight with the Armageddon Fighting Championships was aired in front of 8.5
million viewers, with 4,500 people in the stadium. Royal Canadian Mounted
Police provided direct security at the venue. It was not an underground
activity. It was promoted for months and months ahead of time.
They essentially work with the loopholes that exist, being able to work
with the athletic commissions and sanction themselves not through a back
door or in an underhanded manner, but legitimizing themselves in a way that
did not fully reflect the nature and quality of the sport itself. What I
think they are asking for is absolutely reasonable: just a level playing
field and to be recognized on that equal playing field with other sports.
The fact is the Criminal Code has not been updated since the 1930s, and they
were not prepared for the emergence of it. It certainly was not underground.
As a side note, I was the deputy superintendent of operations at the
Whitehorse Correctional Centre at the time of my last professional fight.
Being engaged in the AFC and fighting as a professional was an excellent way
for me to build relationships and bonds with the inmates at the correctional
centre. I had a great relationship with them; they respected that sport and
the attitude. They were interested and intrigued by it. From that it
generated a tremendous amount of conversation about roles and
responsibility, about sport, about commitment, about pro-social behaviour
and positive lifestyle choices. I was able to use that sport that they were
very interested in, from an entertainment perspective and watching it and
engaging in it, and I was able to educate our inmate population in the
Yukon. It was very successful.
When you look at the positive side benefits of it, I do not see much of a
downside to it, particularly when you see articulate, well-spoken,
well-dressed individuals who are young like Rory MacDonald involved in the
Senator Joyal: Welcome, Mr. Leef. You have practised that sport as
an amateur and as a professional, as you have stated in your opening
remarks. Could you tell us the difference in the health check you encounter
for practice as an amateur? Are they the same level as the one you
encountered as a professional?
Mr. Leef: Yes, they are. The real difference is the amateur
organizations that control it today — and I can only speak for the ones I
was involved in, not all of them across the board — still have insurance
requirements and follow provincial sport-governing body regulations around
it, so the standards are the same. There might be an impetus to have higher
standards in the professional world, but I have not seen that to be the
case. At the end of the day, it is about the athlete's safety, first and
foremost, with those organizations.
What I had to undertake to participate in amateur events was the exact
same thing as I had to undertake for the professional events.
Senator Joyal: You had the blood test, the medical evaluation, and
after the competition you had to go through also an evaluation and so on?
Mr. Leef: The organization I was involved with did not do a
medical evaluation after unless you asked for it. If you required stitches
or something, you would go to a medical evaluation for that. That was not
mandatory, but the organization I participated with automatically suspended
your licence for 35 days, win or lose. Whether you were in the ring for 2
seconds or 15 minutes, your licence was suspended for 35 days and you would
have to appeal to get it "un-suspended.'' For example, if you wanted to
fight 25 days later you would have to appeal that suspension and then you
would have to undergo substantial medical tests to demonstrate that you were
Where the UFC does the medical check afterwards, and they may not
necessarily suspend it for 35 days unless the medical check requires that,
the organization I was involved in did not bother going down that road, they
just automatically suspended every fighter's licence for 35 days.
Senator Joyal: Would you say there is a difference of
professionalism between the referees you encountered as an amateur versus as
Mr. Leef: I think there would be a slight difference, likely not
different from any other sport, amateur hockey to professional hockey. I
think as you move up into the professional world you get higher levels of
referees, higher levels of judges, higher quality of promotions, higher
quality of athlete, even fitter and more dedicated athletes.
I can certainly say, without any reservation, that Mr. MacDonald is far
fitter than I am. That, in large part, is because it is his job and
profession now. Obviously, in the amateur world, you have to work around
your day job and other things that do not allow you to get there.
I think it is a fair statement to say there will be some difference in
the quality of everything across the board in the amateur, of course. The
intensity level is depressed in amateur sports as well. In some amateur
sports they require heavier gloves, additional protection, some require foot
protection, and some will require head protection, different mouth guard
regulations. Amateur levels, recognizing the intensity is down a bit, will
increase some of the safety requirements they have.
Senator Joyal: Who qualifies the referees? In my perception, and I
might be wrong and you can correct me, but to me the referees for amateurs
are important because the people are amateur. The referee role is a position
of responsibility. To me that is very critical for those who practise that
sport at that level. Who qualifies the referees?
Mr. Leef: That may vary from province to province, depending on
the athletic commission and the board, also on the promotion standards. The
organization might have a higher standard than required by the athletic
commissioner or the board or the province. Typically the standards for that
would be designated by a board or commission of the province that is
sanctioning the event in the first place.
You are quite right, the standards and quality of the referees are very
important. Again, they would come in with an equivalent dossier of the
fighters themselves. They would have to demonstrate proficiency; it would
not just be "I am interested in refereeing.'' There would be qualification
standards. What they are and how they differ professionally from province to
province I do not know, but you raise a good point.
Senator Joyal: What, in your opinion, makes that sport so popular
among the young people of Canada? Is it the fact that it is new, or we have
not seen that for a long time? It is not a sport we have seen for centuries,
as was said by some witnesses this morning, or is it because it makes it
more head to head? Do you know what I mean? It is more one against another
rather than a team kind of sport. In a team sport you have to integrate
yourself to a specific role on the team, now you are totally on your own
against another person. To me, the psychology should be very different. You
are in a better position than me to talk about that. Why are young people
attracted by that?
Mr. Leef: I think you have assessed it correctly to some degree.
It is the one-on-one aspect of it. I think the venue is psychologically
interesting for people because the UFC uses an octagon, which is basically a
plastic fence or cage. There are organizations for cage fighting or that
sort of thing.
I think just the idea of the cage is different than boxing and the ropes
and the ring, so it is something different that people are attracted to and
they like that. It is shorter. Their rounds are shorter.
They only have three rounds typically in a regular fight, five rounds in
a championship fight. I think the psychology is similar to why people jam
the stadiums at the Olympics to watch the men's 100-metre final, but you can
find any seat in the house when it comes to watching the marathon. It is
long and people do not want to sit and watch an entire marathon, but they
are very much excited about that one on one; the start and end are quick.
You know the results — who will win or lose — rather quickly. The intensity
level is exciting for people, and I think that is part of the drawing card
for MMA. You will know the winner or loser in maximum 15 minutes.
Senator Joyal: Exactly, it is very intense. As you said, it is
more intense to run for a marathon; the word says it. It is on different
grounds than the other one.
Do they teach it in schools for instance? In secondary school, in your
own territory, is this a sport you can register to learn the basics of it?
How is it spread amongst the youth?
Mr. Leef: It would be private clubs now.
Senator Joyal: It is private clubs, essentially.
Mr. Leef: Yes. There is some resistance in the public schools to
enter into that. They are moving more and more away from physical contact
between students. I can tell you there is probably not a lot of promotion of
mixed martial arts as a sport-based system in the public schools. I do not
necessarily see that happening.
There is wrestling of course, but even that is starting to be questioned
in some places because of a change in philosophy that I do not necessarily
agree with. I do not think you will see a new emergence of mixed martial
arts being taught in public school systems. Kids have to go to gyms or
clubs. That is another reason the legitimization of this under the Criminal
Code is so important. It will start to provide regulations, control,
structure and equipment guidelines out of necessity; clubs will not be able
to start up and just have these up-shoot styles where they teach whatever
They will have to be responsible to the regulations that will exist, and
the growing grouping and commonality of these different organizations will
demand that of the schools. When I say schools, I mean the clubs. It will
demand they adhere to those specifications, which I think is good news
because right now there is very limited control over what clubs teach. You
hope, as a parent or responsible citizen, that it will put youth into those
clubs. You want to explore them and ensure they are teaching the right
philosophy and disciplines with all the safety guidelines. It is incumbent
on us as parents to do that. However, with legitimization under the Criminal
Code hopefully that will be dealt with by boards, bodies and commissions, as
well as the responsibilities we take on as parents.
Senator White: Thanks for being here today. My question pertains
to who participates in MMA today, and we heard you do. We also heard some
police officers in the country are also MMA fighters. Is there not an RCMP
officer in Yellowknife who fights out of a club in Alberta and competes as a
Mr. Leef: Yes.
Senator White: When we talk about it being an illegal act and
whether people find loopholes, the reality is that it is happening now.
There is an acceptance level so that Canada's national police service has
accepted that some of its own employees are participating as professionals.
The fact that it is illegal on paper is not a reality for us. Is that
Mr. Leef: That is correct. It is legal when it is sanctioned by a
commission. In the Yukon there is no athletic commission so they cannot
function, and that is why I had to leave to participate in amateur or
professional competitions. There is certainly no rule about training there.
I did train and used many of the techniques that I know from professional
mixed martial arts in my training and defensive tactics instruction with
correctional officers, park officers and sheriffs. Who is participating?
There are young people like Mr. MacDonald. There are police and military,
and there is a very big resurgence now of women in fighting. There are
female champions in Strikeforce, WEC and they are in Armageddon Fighting
It is crossing all demographics now as well — sex, gender, professional
demographics, age demographics — from 22- year-old Rory MacDonald to
47-year-old Randy Couture, male, female, police, military, schoolteachers.
Mr. Wright could give a better break down of what kind of background his
athletes come from, but there are a number of UFC fighters who have master's
degrees. Many of them are well-spoken, articulate individuals and sensible
people. They come from a long background of professional careers, and I can
say from my anti-bullying program — we use Leaders for Life program — they
know it is mixed martial arts coming into the community to talk to them.
The last clinic we held in Carmacks, we had 35 students come out. Fifteen
were girls and the rest were guys, so almost 50 per cent of the people that
showed up were females between the ages of 12 and 18 and very much
interested in the sport and hearing about it. A lot of them are using it as
a fitness regime. They are finding it is an excellent way for people to stay
fit. It is the newest cardio-type program right now, which is exciting. It
is great to see it cross those boundaries. When we look at the turnout, it
was 10 per cent of the entire community. If we were to run that same
statistical fact in Toronto we would have had 250,000 youth come out. We
would not have been able to hold that in the SkyDome.
Senator Unger: Thank you. I have a question about bullying in
schools. Do you find that kids that have taken these programs privately use
those techniques they learned in the school yards on their classmates?
Mr. Leef: In terms of using the techniques for personal defence,
no. The clubs do not teach that, and I do not teach that in the
Let me provide the caveat that this applies to all sport, not just mixed
martial arts. When you give youth an opportunity to participate in something
where they are coached, mentored, and work in a team environment, sometimes
that is the first opportunity they have ever had to be accepted into a group
or to integrate in a team format. Sometimes it is the most significant
parenting they get in their lives.
This applies to victims, bullies and to bystanders. When they participate
in this program — whether they have been a victim, bystander or bully — they
find the self-confidence they need and the ability to use their words. They
find self- control they did not know they had. They find friendship and team
work. They understand the importance that differences amongst people are not
things that are designed to be isolated or picked on. Those are things to be
They realize quickly that differences in size and height, when you merge
them as a team, can be very much an advantage. One of the drills is having a
piggyback race, putting two guys that are six foot six and 300 pounds on
each other, running through cones. Then you put a four foot kid that is 120
pounds on the six foot guy's back. Guess who wins that one? They understand
their differences are required to create a team.
We absolutely speak out loud and clear about using any of the skills on
the playground. We talk about why, how and where it is safe. The students
and participants in the clubs respect that because they value their time
with their teammates, friends, training time and arguably with people they
feel are now almost family. They value that so much they will not jeopardize
it. I believe that applies to all kinds of sports.
Senator Unger: I know that kids in schools — and I am talking
junior high school — are arranging fights between two students and they
start by egging one on to fight the other. I am wondering if you have heard
any incidents of this happening?
Mr. Leef: Yes, that has happened. In fact, I did a presentation
last year right after the election to one of our schools in the Yukon on
that. They were showing up with boxing gloves, egging this on and having a
In my mind, that does not have anything to do with the popularity of UFC
or mixed martial arts as a sport. There are two things at play: Certainly
the advent of YouTube has created challenges for parents. Now all of a
sudden, you have an instant venue to provide 15 minutes of fame to anybody.
We did not have that growing up. Now there is almost incentive to film this
stuff. We have wonderful technology with BlackBerrys and video cameras that
you and I never had growing up and that can capture these things. Then they
can upload them to YouTube.
I do not want to blame YouTube because I do not believe that is where the
blame rests. I believe that we as educators, legislators and parents need to
take responsibility for the actions of our children. We need to speak to
them and educate them. We need to not bury our heads in the sand about what
is going on. You raise a good point about that.
I think the legitimization of this through Bill S-209 will help put it
front and centre, provide the standards that are acceptable in this country,
and draw the line in the sand for what is acceptable with our youth and what
is not. Then we need to engage in an education campaign to have parents,
educators and community leaders talk to the kids about that. It is leaders
like Rory MacDonald coming out and saying it is not acceptable or cool, and
"that is not where you do that.'' That will resonate most with the youth,
not their member of Parliament saying it, but people they can relate to.
I think we can use them to stop that. It was a good question.
Senator Boisvenu: Mr. Leef, I want to start by commending your
involvement in sports. We have talked a lot about the importance referees,
but I want to switch gears a bit and discuss the importance of instructors.
We have seen the popularity of martial arts skyrocket, and numerous martial
arts schools just set up shop.
It is a fact that the more you practise something, karate say, the better
your technique and the fewer the injuries. As a karate instructor for 20
years, I saw a lot of injuries among beginners because they had not mastered
the various blocking techniques. The better you get, the less you injure
As far as instructors go, I know that schools in Quebec are regulated and
belong to associations. Is it the same in your region? Are instructors or
coaches subject to any quality control in these sports, including extreme
Mr. Leef: I can answer regarding the mixed martial arts component
of it. There is not any governing body that controls or sanctions what clubs
start up and what they teach in those clubs. Presumably, they would only
teach what would be legitimate under a sanctioned contest because you would
not want to be teaching your students things they could not effectively or
legally use in a contest, either amateur or professional. It would be
counterproductive to a degree to teach anything but that.
The point is that there is not that sort of quality control you are
talking about within the club system.
This might be a top-down requirement that the organizations, the
promotions and the athletes participating in it now need to coordinate,
streamline and standardize the rules, safety equipment, regulations and
health checks and then push it downward to those clubs to start to actually
standardize those teachings themselves and incorporate all the rules and
regulations within their own facility.
It begs a question: Do you legislate that or not? If you do, that assures
your quality control. If you do not, my assumption would be that they would
work themselves out of business because they would not be able to offer any
road forward for the organizations that have coordinated their regulations.
Again, it goes back to the point of the bill. This is first step in
really getting all of those promotions, all of those groups, and all the
boards and commissions together to start talking about standardizing this.
Then it is a question of how deep they go into it. Do they move beyond their
promotions? Do they move beyond the events and do they move into the clubs
and groups now to regulate what is being taught at the onset of the sport?
Senator Boisvenu: Hockey, soccer and football instruction is
subject to excellent control; those sports are even being taught in schools.
Teaching someone martial arts is akin to putting a weapon in the hands of a
potentially irresponsible person. Karate is a wonderful sport, but it can be
dangerous without the proper instruction. In light of that fact, should we
not exercise tighter control over these schools that are teaching young
We are talking about teaching them quite dangerous fighting techniques.
Soccer and baseball are not all that dangerous, unless you hit someone with
your bat, of course. The techniques in these combat sports can really hurt
someone if they are not used properly.
Mr. Leef: I agree. We are diverging slightly from where this bill
will go into what we will do in the next steps, in a bit of a hypothetical
I get your point. Each province and territory that I know of has a
martial arts association and I think they discuss what you are talking
about, which is what they teach. I think from your experience you would know
that a lot of clubs and organizations that do not do things properly quickly
get a bad reputation. The community is small. Word of mouth spreads quickly.
I am not talking about the community of the Yukon, which is small. I mean
that in North America, generally, the martial arts community is small.
It is time-honoured tradition, so people are very protective of those
traditions, of the quality of it and the discipline. I think when people
breach that public trust, most particularly in traditional martial arts,
great offence is taken. It usually ends itself rather quickly. Therefore, I
am not sure legislation on that front is required because it is such a
respectable type of sport. I think the bad word would deal with it,
You may or may not agree, but I would say that the self-discipline taught
in responsible clubs is the most significant thing that a student can learn.
I have seen far more dangerous people behave with no skill at all. I think
skill provides self-control and discipline, not lethal weapons. It provides
the absolute control you need. People who look around in desperation without
any skill or self-control are far more concerning than those who have taken
the time to go to a club.
The Deputy Chair: I was reminded by Senator Boisvenu's reference
to karate. We heard yesterday from the athletic commissioner of Edmonton
that it would be appropriate in his view to amend this bill so that it did
not apply only to mixed martial arts but to combative sports in general.
There are a number of them that would not be covered by the general
provisions of this bill, notably, karate. What would you think about that as
a potential amendment?
Mr. Leef: As I said, I am a proponent of sport, so if there is a
way to improve regulations to ensure sport is protected and brought through
the right processes so it is engaged in safely and properly in our country,
and if those are adjustments that are needed, then I am supportive of that.
I was interested to see in proposed paragraph 83(2)(c) that there
is a direct reference to combative sports. Then it is 83(2)(d) that
carries on and actually talks about mixed martial arts.
The Deputy Chair: Exactly. It is proposed paragraph 83(2)(d)
that makes the specific reference to MMA but only to MMA, and boxing.
His argument was that it was good in itself but not sufficient, ideally.
Mr. Leef: I am not a lawyer, and I guess you are asking me for a
personal perspective on it. There is acknowledgment of it under proposed
paragraph 83(2)(c), so that might carry over.
I am always interested in the semantics of things. "Combative sport''
can be misinterpreted at times for people to the extreme negative. I would
be curious — and again I am thinking out loud — but you can define a
combative sport to apply to football, since it could be a combat sport, as
could hockey if your intent is to body-check someone.
The Deputy Chair: They provided a definition that might need some
tweaking. It would make it plain that we were not talking about team sports,
Mr. Leef: Personally, I am interested in seeing something that is
reflective of Canada's wants, needs and expectations with this sport, and
with the growth or projected growth of it. If we needed to look more into
the future on where things could go and it will provide us with the safety
and security for the athletes, primarily, and then to meet the needs of
Canadians, and what Canadians' appetite is for the growth of any sport —
whether mixed martial arts or combative — then I am certainly in favour of
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much indeed. When the bells start
to ring, the tension starts to rise, but you are familiar with that from the
Colleagues, I would like one word before you all disappear. We have had
several emails from security. Apparent there is a very large demonstration
with many people and we are advised that we might wish to use the tunnel to
get to Centre Block.