Professional and amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) events could be held in the City of Vernon.
The city has a current bylaw that prohibits pro and amateur mixed martial fights within the municipal limits, which came into effect in 2014.
A debate among council and staff that lasted longer than three mixed martial arts bouts ensued, ending up with council chokeholding and defeating two motions before settling on a third.
“The original problem was the RCMP said MMA had a lot to do with gangs, but that’s no longer the case,” said Coun. Akbal Mund, who was mayor when the bylaw was enacted. “These events attract a lot of people.”
City administrator Will Pearce said the province permits MMA fights, it’s the municipalities, by bylaw, that can restrict or prohibit MMA events. The past council directed staff to create a bylaw to prohibit pro and amateur MMA events. The province administers MMA events in municipalities which permit them.
“The only reason we don’t have these fights in Vernon is that council at the time voted against it,” said Coun. Kelly Fehr. “In our report from staff suggesting we maintain the ban, there is no rationale attached but there is rationale attached to the 2014. That’s all been resolved. Any issues that did exist no longer exist. I don’t see why we wouldn’t proceed with allowing the sport in our community.”
Coun. Brian Quiring, who was on the city’s athletic commission when the decision to ban MMA events was made, said the events are well-organized and there’s a doctor on-site. But the commission, he said, received information that got them thinking to reconsider having these events in Vernon.
“Is it reasonable to ask the RCMP for their opinion and where they stand on this?” questioned Quiring.
It was the RCMP, said Pearce, who had “quite a strong position” on the topic.
The original motion to retain the prohibition was unanimously defeated, 6-0 (Coun. Scott Anderson was absent from the meeting).
Pearce said even though the motion was defeated, the bylaw is retained until another bylaw comes forward at council’s direction to rescind it.
“We’re exactly where we were 10 minutes ago,” said Pearce. “Mixed martial arts events are not permitted at this point in time. Council has expressed interest in asking the RCMP if there are any concerns that council should be aware of. Those could be brought forward to the next meeting of council.
“If, depending on the response, council could look at that information, then make a motion asking administration to bring forward a bylaw to the rescind the current bylaw. By rescinding current bylaw, that would essentially open it up and permit mixed martial arts, again, under the jurisdiction of the province which is where it is in any case right now.”
Said Fehr: “It’s done in Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops, many, many cities across B.C. There’s no reason Vernon should be excluded.”
A motion was called by Fehr to rescind the bylaw. That motion was defeated 4-2 with Fehr and Mund in favour.
Quiring then motioned that council ask RCMP and MMA stakeholder groups in Vernon to give input on possibly rescinding prohibition on pro and amateur MMA events in the city.
That motion was unanimously supported, though Pearce said they’ll likely get a response from the RCMP for the next regular meeting (March 25), it’s “highly unlikely we’ll be able to secure comments by all stakeholders. We haven’t been in the business (MMA) for a number of years. It may well take two or three meetings from the stakeholders once we determine who the stakeholders are.”