Tuesday marked the second annual Access to Justice education event for Sault elementary school students, organized by the Access to Justice Committee and held at the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse.
Grades 7 and 8 students from Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) schools took part in a morning session, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) students in the afternoon (120 students from each board).
Students went through three different rotations which included mock trials, including ‘guilty pleas’ and ‘sentences’ for shoplifting, information sessions in which judges and lawyers gave brief speeches explaining different aspects and roles within the legal system, followed by a wrap up question and answer period in the main courtroom.
“It was fun because we learned the roles of a lawyer, a judge...it (the legal system) kind of seems easier when you hear them speak about what they do. I might want to be a cop,” said Layen Baysden, a Grade 7 student from R. M. Moore Public School, speaking to SooToday.
“It was fun. I learned a lot about how they do their jobs. I was sort of nervous because I’ve never been to one of these places before...it looks like fun,” said Ellie Assiginack, a Grade 6 student, also from R.M. Moore Public School, who played a defence lawyer in the mock trial.
“Today is about education,” said Kathryn Orydzuk, Algoma Community Legal Clinic staff lawyer and Access to Justice committee member.
“It’s about giving children exposure to the justice system, the court system, and letting them know about the inner workings here.”
Judges and lawyers explained the existence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, jury selection, bail, the concept of innocent until proven guilty, the right of every citizen to have access to a lawyer and the appeal process.
Students had the opportunity of playing the parts of judge, Crown Attorney, defence lawyers, special constable and the accused while judges, lawyers, court staff and Sault Police special constables walked them through the process.
During the question and answer session, students asked judges and lawyers a variety of questions, ranging from the topic of penalties for minor offences such as jaywalking to inquiring how someone could plead ‘not criminally responsible’ in a court case.
“I think it’s important, at a young age, to demystify the courthouse and the justice system. The beginning of access to justice is education, for them to be equipped with that knowledge,” Orydzuk said.
“The teachers have been really enthusiastic and excited about this opportunity for the kids.”
“I think the students are engaged and they’re taking away the basics of what we’re trying to get across to them and they’re getting an idea of what the different career options are in the legal field,” Orydzuk said.
“I would love to do more hands-on exercises for Access to Justice...we’re hoping to do this every year, and we have a mock trial event coming up in the spring for students, but on a larger scale.”
“It’s been great,” said Cait Tomlinson, Access to Justice Committee lawyer.
“I joined the committee about two months ago and I definitely think it’s important that young people in the community are educated on what’s available to them regarding our justice system, from clerk positions, court reporters, to lawyers, judges, mediators and all the rules involved,” Tomlinson said.
Tuesday’s event took place during Ontario’s fourth annual Access to Justice Week, which runs from Oct. 28 to Nov.1.