“Reading the Riot Act” is a phrase that has entered the popular lexicon, meaning the action taken by authority figures when they perceive that their “charges” are getting out of hand. The act itself is a seldom-used piece of legislation actually designed to prevent a riot from taking place. Supposedly, the mere mention of the Riot Act is enough to bring hardened miscreants bent on destruction to their collective senses. But if a riot has started, it’s already too late to read the Riot Act.
Every city has its distinct history of rioting — the Rocket Richard riots in Montreal, the Christie Pits riot in Toronto, the Winnipeg and Regina riots, even the Shakespeare riots in New York where rival factions rioted over which actor was the better interpreter of Shakespeare’s work.
Reading the Riot Act is a popular history that rereads and rewrites the legacy of riots in Vancouver. The project was conceived following the city’s Stanley Cup riots in 1994, when official reports and media coverage differed significantly from eyewitness accounts. Later, media reports on the APEC riots downplayed and obscured certain facets of the conflict. Seeking out sources beyond the official reports, Barnholden has compiled a record of participants and observers, allowing the “vanquished” to have their say. Barnholden shuns the simplistic “bad apple” explanation, and explores the deeper economic causes and effects of riots.
Michael Barnholden is associate director of Humanities 101 at the University of British Columbia and the author of several books of poetry and non-fiction, most recently, Reading the Riot Act (Anvil 2005). A Vancouver resident since 1970, Michael works as an advocate with the B.C. Coalition of People with Disbilities.