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The Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue: Why Is BJJ Illegal in Canada?

The Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue: Why Is BJJ Illegal in Canada?

Montreal city of Quebec, Canada is the house of various world-famous grapplers and mixed martial artists. Tristar gym which produced various big names in MMA is also located in Quebec.

Despite having an active Martial arts community, BJJ tournaments are illegal in various regions of Canada as a result of the Law that was passed by the Canadian House of Commons in 2013. According to that law, BJJ training is allowed but all BJJ competitions are banned. Since the BJJ Quebec ban attracted the attention of athletes around the globe.

1. Jiu-Jitsu Quebec Issue

The interesting thing about the ban is, training for any martial art including MMA is perfectly fine and allowed. But according to Canadian Law, BJJ and other close-range combat sports are labeled as “prize fights” and yet banned.

The initial purpose of this amendment was to restrict cage fighting, but god knows how it ended up branding BJJ as a banned sport.

In Canadian Law, according to section 82(2)(a):
“An encounter or fight with fists, hands, or feet between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them”.

In the above-stated section, there is a gray area, and BJJ was targeted because of the vague interpretation of “Prize Fighting.”

One possible reason could be the confusion between Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, because the first one uses strikes, and the second one has banned the use of strikes. It is possible that the authorities might have mixed both Japanese and Brazilian grappling sports.

But the intentions of Canadian authorities clearly communicated when they extended the ban on similar grappling sports like Sambo.

The Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue appeared on the surface when the provincial government stopped the AJP Canadian Pro Tournament in 2017, a few hours before its official event was about to start. The officials said that the event is illegal according to the new amendment.     

According to the correspondent of Canadian criminal law, regulating combat sports, amateur wrestling, and Judo competitions are beyond the jurisdiction of this amendment and are considered legal.

States of Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia have swayed the regulations and allowed the competitions of BJJ, Sambo, MMA, and other martial arts but the state of Quebec has not allowed any competition and decided to impose section 83 of the Canadian Criminal Code and took decisive measures against those who violated the amendment. 

BJJ athletes from Quebec were very vocal about the issue and received support from the BJJ community from all around the globe. 2022 ADCC Champion Brianna expresses these her views after her ADCC fight:

“I don’t know if this is at all going to make a change – but jiu-jitsu competitions are actually illegal in Quebec, where I’m from. All of us are coming out of Montréal, and competitions are illegal there – so, if this coverage can somehow make a change for that, I’ll just point out how ridiculous that situation is.”

Oliver Taza expressed:

“[Jiu-jitsu competitions] became illegal because of selfish reasons between two promoters who didn’t want to see each other succeed.”

Ethan Crelinsten said:

“You want hungry athletes in your city! They’re the best customers! I did an IBJJF event in Montreal a long, long time ago, at the blue belt – and if they did an IBJJF Open in Montreal, I’d fly back and do it in a heartbeat,”

2. There might be something else Under the Rug

Crelinsten also explained the feud between two local BJJ organizations and they reportedly ended up calling the cops against each other. There sure was a great deal of local drama, jealousy, and mismanagement of local BJJ institutions that clearly provoked the local authorities to take extreme measures.

Grapplers who were training in Quebec faced issues as most of them can’t relocate and stay out of Canada to participate in BJJ competitions. Other martial arts like wrestling and Judo are not prohibited and are regulated and legalized according to Canadian law.

3. Why is BJJ Illegal in Canada?

Quebec's issue was based on the fact that the Canadian Criminal Code is regulating combat sports. The Canadian government did not clearly explain “Prize Fighting” sports fairly in their new interpretation of the law. According to their new definition of prizefighting sports, BJJ, unfortunately, targeted most badly.

Another possible reason behind this amendment and the major involvement of BJJ in this ban was the Japanese Jiu-Jitsu strikes. The Canadian government might have mixed Japanese Jiu-Jitsu with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Here we should make it clear that Japanese Jiu-Jitsu includes self-defense techniques which include strikes to take down their opponent. But BJJ is a martial art that does not include any strikes.       

One of the organizers of the AJP Canadian Pro tournament stated:

"It should be noted that the commander of the SPVM in charge of the complaint did not know that Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) was different from 'jiu-jitsu' and did not have any strikes in its matches,"

Other MMA sports like judo and wrestling are regulated by government agencies and are now categorized as legal sports. But grappling arts like BJJ are still laid in this category.       

4. Strict Implementations of Law

The Canadian government is implementing the law strictly that any tournament held in Quebec has to face police crackdowns and arrests for both organizers and participants. It was also included that every case will be prosecuted in court, as stated by Montreal Municipal Prosecutor.

Anyone who tries to defy this law will be arrested and punished or fined according to the orders of the court. Grapplers and BJJ academies are restricted to organize any tournament or local event or warned to face arrest in case of violations. There are police crackdowns in the region to avoid any grappling events in the province.     

5. Response of Top Grapplers on Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue

Many BJJ World Champions belonged to Canada. Canadian grapplers appeared on the screen various times and spoke about the Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue. Brianna Ste-Marie, who lost the final to Ffion Davies and won the silver medal in the 2022 ADCC championship and was the first Canadian to earn Silver Medal in ADCC, spoke about the Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue in her post-fight interview.

“I don’t know if this is at all going to make a change – but jiu-jitsu competitions are actually illegal in Quebec, where I’m from. All of us are coming out of Montréal, and competitions are illegal there – so, if this coverage can somehow make a change for that, I’ll just point out how ridiculous that situation is.”

Oliver Taza who is also World Champion said:

“[Jiu-jitsu competitions] became illegal because of selfish reasons between two promoters who didn’t want to see each other succeed.”

Johnny Zemouli stated that:

“Our champions went outside of Montreal. They are going to Toronto, New York…. to compete”

He intended for some Canadian grapplers to leave the Province by saying:

“We cannot grow in Quebec. Everybody is really upset about that.”

Ethan Crelinsten also spoke on the BJJ Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue:

“If they did an IBJJF Open in Montreal, I’d fly back and do it in a heartbeat.”

He further added that his brother was also making his career in BJJ. He motivated him to perform in competitions.

“We have this conversation all the time, where I tell him, ‘Dude, you’ve got to compete,’ but when I put myself in his shoes, it’s like, what would I even do?”

6. Struggles to Legalize BJJ in Quebec

The Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue is affecting the career of many young and emerging BJJ athletes who cannot afford to travel and stay out of their province for competitions. An advocacy organization “One Two Jitsu” is working hard on the provincial level to educate the Quebec government about BJJ.

Steven Maclure who is the founder of the “One Two Jitsu” said:

“I wanted to create a brand that would promote jiu-jitsu in Quebec – and that was the birthplace of One Two Jitsu.” 

He organized meetings with Government officials to educate them that BJJ is a gentle sport that does not include strikes contrary to Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. He believed that there is a need to prove that BJJ is a gentle art and the government should work to regulate and legalize the BJJ competitions inside the province. He further added:

“We have to educate the government to make sure that our competitions are safe for everyone to participate in.
Once we do that, the government is really, really open to legalizing [jiu-jitsu] – but we have to do our work.”

Brianna Ste-Marie motivated BJJ athletes to play their part in the battle to resolve the Jiu-Jitsu Quebec issue by spreading the message and said:

“I think the first step is spreading the message,” Brianna Ste-Marie said. “Once I started posting more about the problems in Quebec, I realized that so few people knew about the situation, even fellow Canadians!”

Hopefully, the Quebec provincial government will take steps to regulate and legalize BJJ competitions inside the province.

7. Takeaways

BJJ is not banned in the entire country of Canada. The Canadian government allowed other provinces to legalize MMA and amateur combat sports. The basic need is to educate the Quebec provincial government that BJJ is not a striking sport and does not promote harm to opponents.

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