By: Sarah Mack*
For the third year in a row, Level has partnered with Northern Youth Abroad (NYA) to deliver a condensed two-day version of our IYOP workshop to Indigenous youth between the ages of 15-21. NYA is an organization cultivating youth leadership and cross-cultural awareness where Indigenous youth from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories spend several weeks exploring different parts of Canada. Throughout the program, the youth learn about history and culture, develop leadership skills, and engage in various volunteer projects. Last Thursday and Friday, Level hosted an IYOP workshop in Ottawa with the sixteen youth participating in this year’s NYA Next program.
The workshop began with a visit to the Supreme Court of Canada where program participants received a tour of the building, accompanied by a short lesson on the Canadian Western judicial system. Youth enjoyed donning legal robes and taking photographs at the Federal Court of Appeal and were intrigued by the layout of the Supreme Court itself.
Northern Youth Abroad participants pose in front of the statue of Louis St. Laurent at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Afterwards, youth headed to McMillan law firm to learn about the role of a lawyer and the structure of the Canadian criminal justice system. After snapping some photographs of Parliament from McMillan’s twentieth floor patio, Elder Verna McGregor led the group through a smudging ceremony and prayer. She also guided program participants through cultural teachings about justice, empowerment, and reconciliation. The day concluded with youth being assigned their roles for the mock trial, meeting with and getting to know their volunteer partners over a pizza supper.
The following day began bright and early with an icebreaker activity in which participants learned interesting facts about one another and celebrated the achievements of their peers. This was followed by a short lesson and activities on key criminal law concepts. In small groups, youth and volunteers worked together to prepare for their roles in the mock trial. Youth acted in a variety of roles – including counsel, witnesses, jurors, and court staff.
NYA Next participant, Stanley, imagines himself as a Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal and sentences the accused during a mini mock trial at the Supreme Court of Canada.
The mock trial began with a welcome by Dean Dodek of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. He reminded those in attendance that the Constitution is not simply a tool for lawyers, judges, and legal professionals; rather, it exists for the benefit and protection of the diverse Canadian public. Dean Dodek graciously gifted the youth his book on the Canadian Constitution at the conclusion of the workshop.
The mock trial was presided over by Elder Verna McGregor, a counsellor at Minwaashin Lodge in Ottawa and a respected leader in the Algonquin community, as well as Deputy Judge Roger Leclaire, a retired prosecutor and current small claims judge in Ottawa. Elder Verna opened the trial by explaining the significance in her culture of the eagle feather and the bundle of tobacco in court proceedings. She encouraged participants to hold these sacred objects if they felt uneasy on the witness stand and concluded by leading participants through an opening prayer. Deputy Judge Leclaire addressed the jurors in his opening remarks before handing off the proceedings to youth participants to plead their case. When the trial concluded, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions. Many raised several thoughtful questions about the mock trial itself, careers in the legal profession, and Indigenous peoples in the justice system.
NYA youth Shannon, Annie, AJ, Wally and Xavier strike a pose with Level volunteers Sarah and Louise at uOttawa Faculty of Law
While youth learned more about the Canadian criminal justice system, volunteers learned about Indigenous legal traditions and enjoyed talking with youth about the various communities they reside in. Some volunteers even took the opportunity to learn Inuktitut from the youth! This two-way knowledge exchange is a core feature of IYOP. The program’s emphasis on promoting cultural competency, advancing reconciliation, and celebrating diversity in the legal profession ensures that all program participants - lawyers and youth alike - learn and grow.
It was a fun and engaging day for everyone involved. Youth were enthusiastic about their roles and settled comfortably into character. Several participants took detailed notes and asked poignant questions throughout the proceedings. The program showcased the diverse talents of the youth, built confidence amongst participants, and demonstrated that—while far from perfect—the Canadian justice system is meant to be for everyone.
Counsel strike a pose with Deputy Judge Leclaire
The success of IYOP would not be possible without our sponsors and volunteers. Level would like to thank those who made this year’s Ottawa program delivery an enjoyable and engaging experience for all participants. We would like to extend a special thank you to Elder Verna, Deputy Judge Leclaire, sponsors and friends at McMillan LLP, and all of the program volunteers: Leah, Tara, Cathy, Louise, Jacintha, Denise Ann, Darcy, Rebecca and Ben.
Interested in getting involved with Level’s Indigenous Youth Outreach Program? Email Director of Programs, Lisa Del Col: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Kenya-Jade Pinto for Level.
Sarah Mack is a Summer Student at Level. She will be entering her third year of the JD program at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law in the fall.