In October 2020, Level hosted its first *virtual* Facing Resistance Speaker Series. The online event brought together 100 youth, legal professionals and law students to share in a candid discussion on the topic of Canada's access to justice crisis and its effects on marginalized youth. Level's Facing Resistance Speaker Series offers a diverse virtual platform to not only confront challenging topics and questions, but also learn how we can collectively create a justice system that is responsive, balanced and fair. We are excited to share some event highlights with you!
To open the event, Level was joined by retired Senator from the Métis Nation of Ontario, Elder Constance Simmonds. Constance opened with a land acknowledgement, honouring the legacy of the ancestors and emphasizing the responsibility we have to remove barriers and create safety for Indigenous youth. She then provided an opening prayer, setting the intention for the event.
Panel Discussion: Canada's access to justice crisis and its effects on marginalized youth
Following Constance's opening, Level Executive Director, Shelan Markus, moderated a panel discussion with Maggie Wente and Anthony Morgan on the topic of Canada's access to justice crisis and its effects on marginalized youth. Maggie is a partner at OKT. She is a member of Serpent River First Nation and has a broad practice serving First Nations governments, their related entities, businesses and not-for-profit corporations. Anthony is a lawyer specializing in racial justice issues and he is the Manager of the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism. Maggie shared her thoughts on the questions we must ask ourselves regarding marginalized youth in the criminal justice system:
"By the time we have a youth who is at the doorstep of the criminal justice system, who's an accused offender, we've already really failed that person. So to me, the question ought to be in what ways have we failed that person and in what ways can we think about trying to remedy the failure, because you can have all the lawyers in the world and you can have all the courts in the world and there can be great excellent legal representation for people who find themselves accused of crimes and youth who find themselves accused of crimes and the question is: does that system work? I think that that system doesn't work. Black youth and Indigenous youth are over represented and they don't have good outcomes coming out of the juvenile justice system."
Anthony also shared his thoughts on increasing access to justice by reshaping how we think about Black and Indigenous youth:
"For me, when it comes to access to justice, we have to fundamentally reshape how we socialize ourselves to think about Black and Indigenous youth. What are the experiences, what are the histories that have led our young people to find themselves where they are and the family conditions and communities that they have? Until we do that, we're at risk of simply perpetuating the disadvantages in various systems."
The panel discussion ended with a look at how we can increase diversity in Canada's justice system:
Maggie: "I think we can have hundreds of systems depending on what the community is and what would be responsive to the community. Recently, in the world of child protection and child welfare there has been federal legislation that has recognized the inherent jurisdiction of First Nations people to control their own justice systems and to pass their own laws, including the system that will support or administer those laws. That is possibly very transformative, because it allows each Nation, in each First Nation in Canada, theoretically, to come up with its own law and administer its own law about the children that come from there...So I don't think that we have to limit our imagination. There could be great things that come out of people exercising their jurisdiction."
Anthony: "There are these different systems of education that respond to the different needs of the ways in which young people develop. Frankly, it seems that it's just the justice system that's holding onto this sort of one-size-fits-all, you must conform into these ways of processing, for justice to be realized. The education system is not a perfect system, but it's one space you can look to that does have tremendous power in our society that has said: well maybe we need to be more dynamic and fluid to be able to properly support the well-being and outcomes for young people. I think we can, we should and need to see the same thing in the justice system."
Personal Story by Justice Jodie-Lynn Waddilove
Following the panel discussion, Justice Jodie-Lynn Waddilove shared her personal story on being an Anishinabe and Lenape woman, born and raised on the Munsee-Delaware First Nation, and her path to becoming an Ontario Court Justice in 2018. Justice Jodie-Lynn Waddilove was called to the bar in 2004. She has served as Senior Legal Counsel to the Honourable M.H. Tulloch at the Independent Street Checks Review and the Independent Police Oversight Review. She was Senior Legal Counsel with Ontario's Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls joint national inquiry team and Coroner's Counsel at Coroner's Inquests across the Province of Ontario. In addition, Justice Waddilove has provided legal counsel to the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in areas including Indigenous legal issues, civil litigation, policing and law enforcement, and immigration and citizenship.
We would like to thank our attendees and event sponsors. Without you, this online event would not have been possible! We’re ever grateful for having such dedicated supporters in our corner. We want to thank our event speakers, Elder Constance Simmonds, Maggie Wente, Anthony Morgan and Justice Jodie-Lynn Waddilove for sharing their time and wisdom, and providing us with tools for reflection and incorporation into our daily lives as we continue to combat access to justice issues in Canada. We also wish tothank our event sponsors, CN, Torys LLP, Krista Hill and Linda Plumpton, Blakes, Goodmans LLP, WeirFoulds LLP and Enbridge for their generous support of our first virtual Facing Resistance Speaker Series event.