The Spring 2019 Charter Challenge concluded this week with the two finalist teams making their oral arguments at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Approximately 350 students from 21 schools throughout Ontario took part in the program.
The case explored trial fairness in the context of representative juries for accused Indigenous persons living on reserves in remote areas. Overall, response rates to jury duty notices are poor, but are particularly low for on-reserve Indigenous communities. As a result, these communities are under-represented in juries for criminal trials.
Some of the social and historical reasons for this under-representation were examined in the case, as well as the process by which potential jurors are selected. Does the process amounts to a systemic exclusion of on-reserve Indigenous people? Does this amount to a violation of the Charter right to a fair and impartial trial for defendants living on reserves?
Finalist Teams Take Their Case to Court
On Monday, June 10th, the finalist teams from Richmond Hill High School and Bloor Collegiate Institute met to present their arguments. The panel was presided over by Justice Lois Roberts with support from Court of Appeal Legal Counsel Anna Trbovich and judicial clerk Emily Young.
Justice Roberts commented on how impressed she was by the students.
“It was an extraordinarily difficult topic and they did an amazing job,” she said. “Both sides were excellent.”
From left to right: Court of Appeal Legal Counsel Anna Trbovich, Justice Lois Roberts, and judicial clerk Emily Young.
In the end, Bloor Collegiate, representing the government position, was declared the winner. This was the first time a Bloor Collegiate team had made it to the final round. The all-female team belongs to the school law club, the Law Society of Bloor, an extra-curricular activity they had all joined two years ago. This was the fourth time they had submitted a factum for the Charter Challenge, entering both the Fall and Spring sessions each year.
The club is open to anyone who is interested in law regardless of the grade they are in and whether or not they are in a law class. As their teacher, Luis Filipe, explained, the club is a great way for students who are not taking a law class to explore their interest in law. Some of the students who join are in specialized programs that limit the number of electives they are permitted to take. Only two of the Bloor Collegiate Charter Challenge team members were in law courses.
A member of the Richmond Hill High School team presents his argument for the panel of judges.
“Preparing for the Charter Challenge was a long process,” team member Rahma Binth Mohammad said. “There was a lot of reading about case law and legal precedents. But it was also very rewarding. Understanding about our rights is so important.”
They all agreed that participating in activities like the Charter Challenge was a much different experience than classroom learning. It provided an incentive to look deeply into issues they might not otherwise learn about. They had the opportunity to consider complicated subjects from different perspectives. And they had become proficient in the area of legal research.
As the final activity for the team before they graduate later this month, they were delighted that their two years of effort had paid off with this victory.
Congratulations to students from Bloor Collegiate Institute and Richmond Hill High School for their exceptional efforts, and to all the students who participated in the Spring 2019 Charter Challenge! You are all great! Enjoy your summer and good luck as you move into the next exciting chapters of your lives!
Sadie Tremblay of Bloor Collegiate Institute receives the Justice Gloria Epstein Award for Oral Advocacy.