Canada’s weirdest laws: rioting requires being read the actual riot act

People have 30 minutes to leave after the proclamation; otherwise they could face a punishment of a life sentence.
People have 30 minutes to leave after the proclamation; otherwise they could face a punishment of a life sentence. (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!"

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You might have heard of the expression “reading the riot act.” In modern times, the phrase means to scold or reprimand someone sternly.

However, the riot act is only too real and in Canada it has to be read if people are of course, rioting.

The Criminal Code of Canada states that if a law enforcement official, such as a sheriff or prison warden, is dealing with a riot in which 12 or more people are “unlawfully assembled,” then the official is to “command silence” and proclaim in a “loud voice”:

Her Majesty the Queen charges and commands all persons being assembled immediately to disperse and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business on the pain of being guilty of an offence for which, on conviction, they may be sentenced to imprisonment for life. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.”

What, no town crier or hand bell required?

People have 30 minutes to leave after the proclamation; otherwise they could face a punishment of a life sentence, which is the same punishment one usually receives if convicted of murder.

The law harks back to the United Kingdom.

The British law, too, mandated that the riot act be read by a local magistrate to an assembly of 12 people or more if it was considered a “riotous and tumultuous assembly.”

The British passed the law in 1714, because they were worried about the Jacobites rioting — turns out they were right — and if caught rioting, one could face penalties such as three years of hard labour or hard labour and imprisonment for two years.

Makes you wonder where the Canadian government got its life sentence punishment.

Is the riot act proclamation even still valid in Canada? Believe it or not it is, as the government recommends using the proclamation in cases where prison inmates are rioting.

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The next time you hear “Attica! Attica!” you may want to run.

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