Approximately 125 newcomer youth in Toronto developed legal leadership skills in a new OJEN program piloted between August 2017 and July 2018.
Many newcomer youth have stronger English language skills than their adult family members. This sometimes places them as trusted sources of information and interpreters for their families. When adult family members encounter problems, they may turn to the youth to help resolve them. When these problems have a legal dimension, navigating the complex world of government services and legal systems can be overwhelming – for the whole family.
Recognizing the challenges faced by newcomer youth, OJEN developed a unique new justice education program to provide practical legal information and skill-development opportunities. Eight groups of newcomer youth in Toronto completed the Legal Leadership program over a period of 12 months.
OJEN partnered with schools and community centres with high newcomer populations to deliver the program. Each session was tailored to the capacity, needs and comfort level of the audience. Games and interactive activities made the material more accessible.
The program consisted of four main themes:
- Human Rights Law in Ontario:
Participants learned about the human rights guaranteed to Ontarians, particularly those in housing and employment matters. The youth learned how to recognize discrimination and identify the protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
- Where to Get Help:
Participants received information on where and how to access legal help in their first language. They also learned about organizations they could go to when they experienced legal problems.
- Connecting with Legal Professionals:
Justice sector volunteers visited the program to engage with youth in informal sessions. This gave youth an opportunity to ask questions about the law and become more comfortable and confident in engaging with legal professionals.
- Advocacy Skills:
The program introduced practical skills youth could use to address day-to-day issues: learning how to document and report employment concerns, how to write a formal letter and how to make a maintenance request are some of the ways participants
practiced these advocacy skills.
Becoming Legal Leaders
Here are some of the success stories of the Legal Leadership program:
Living with a broken light fixture in her building’s hallway was a cause of worry for one young woman in the program. She and her younger siblings were anxious about having to cross the hall in the dark to use the washroom. As part of the Legal Leadership program she learned how to submit a maintenance request to her landlord. Within two weeks of writing her letter, the fixture was fixed.
After learning about a legal clinic he could go to for advice about an employment problem, one participant told us that he phoned and made an appointment. Overall, he said, it was a positive experience and the justice system was less intimidating than he thought it would be.
Another young woman had questions about her pay cheque but was scared to ask about it. Through the Legal Leadership program she gained the confidence to speak to her employer about her concerns and stand up for her rights at work.
Thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Law Foundation of Ontario for the funding that made this program possible.