This spring, Level had the exciting opportunity to further expand its Dare to Dream Program with a new partner school located on the Beausoleil First Nation in Ontario. Over the course of two successive weeks, Level's volunteer lawyers, clerks and paralegals worked with the grade 7 & 8 students from Christian Island Elementary School.
The first day of program delivery had the volunteers travelling via ferry to Christian Island. After a short walk from the ferry dock, the volunteers met with the students and conducted some icebreaker games, including a rousing game of "Human Bingo", which had participants seeking out peers with such traits as being left-handed, owning more than two dogs, or having travelled to another country. After getting to know the volunteers, the students immersed themselves in justice education, learning more about the criminal justice process in Canada and the elements of a criminal offence. Students broke into groups to participate in discussions on such topics as the difference between actus reus and mens rea, and also learned the various steps of a criminal trial. These foundational lessons led the students to the main activity of a mock trial, which focused on an assault case. The students took on the various roles of those involved in a criminal trial, including the accused, court clerk, witnesses, Crown and defence counsel, and the jury. The remainder of the first day was spent preparing for trial with volunteers.
Students and volunteers split into groups to work on developing examination and cross-examination questions for the witnesses in the mock trial of R. v. Desmoulin
The following Monday, the students and volunteers travelled to the Midland Court House in order to conduct the mock trial, which was presided over by Justice Robert Main. Justice Main worked to ensure the students and volunteers were given special access to the court house on a day where no other trials were booked. To start the day in a good way, the volunteers and students participated in a smudge and prayer ceremony led by local Elder Gloria King, with support from elder Emily Norton. Gloria spoke of the importance of the youth learning more about the justice system, and Emily noted how this type of exercise helps students see the varying types of careers available within the legal sector.
Following the smudge, the students hit the ground running and prepped for trial. They were given an introduction to the process and rules of the court by Justice Main, and then donned their robes and dove right in to the case. The witnesses were given the opportunity to swear on the eagle feather gifted to Justice Main for his work with Indigenous communities, which was a nod to the incorporation of Indigenous practices in the Canadian legal system. After hearing from Crown and defence witnesses and conducting cross-examinations, the case was turned over to the jury, who steadfastly took notes throughout the trial. After a short deliberation, the jury found the accused guilty of assault.
The guilty verdict led to the opportunity for the students and volunteers to learn about restorative justice by conducting a mock sentencing circle led by Martin Prost, a Midland lawyer and President of FACE (Forum of Accountability in a Circle Experience), a diversion program in Midland that focuses on restoration and healing. The circle exercise involved the students taking on roles of the accused, the victim, and their family and community members. Everyone shared their views and worked together to decide by consensus on how to best deal with the incident for all parties involved. In this case, the group decided that the accused would give a verbal apology and work some volunteer hours at the local recreation centre in order to repair the wrong.
Overall, the students and volunteers found the program to be an enjoyable experience. The students noted how fun it was to participate in the mock trial in an actual courtroom, and the volunteers enjoyed seeing the students excel in their roles throughout the trial.
This program would not have been a success without its volunteers and partners. Level would like to thank the Christian Island Dare to Dream volunteers: Jennifer Macko, Roberta Bald, Mark Baker, Matt Hopkins, Krystle Jackson, Karen Osachoff, Lynn Rossignol, Denise Resnick, Kim Sandy, Julian Kusek, and most importantly, Dale Lediard, who led the charge in organizing the launch of the program in Christian Island.
Students and volunteers gather for a group photo at the conclusion of the program.