Volunteering with the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), I recently began facilitating a family law mock trial at the Afghan Women’s Organization for newcomer youth. Its aims are to give Afghan youth the opportunity to work with lawyers involved in the justice system, and to develop their analytic thinking skills.
As a first year law student, I myself am doing my first mock trial today as I write this post, and so I have found that working with these youth has been as much a learning and preparatory experience for me as it has been for them. My deciding to volunteer this information to the Afghan youth on the first day of preparation for the mock trial has made me more approachable, and has helped to make the learning environment more nonthreatening and question-friendly.
The most common question that I have heard asked by Afghan youth, “what are my rights if I am stopped by the police?” is unrelated to the family law trial process. This however only serves to make the disproportionate number of times that I have been asked this question all the more concerning, and indicative of how pressing and real issues such as these are among members of these communities. When provided with answers, Afghan youth participants often give accounts of times when they or someone that they know found themselves in a similar situation.
Other general questions that the lawyers and I have gotten asked by these teenagers are ones that I myself have only recently found out the answers to in preparing for my own mock trial. These include questions related to the trial process such as: (1) Which lawyer speaks first? (2) How do I address a judge? (3) How do I address witnesses? (4) Are you allowed to bring in an unlimited number of witnesses as a lawyer? (5) Does a judge or a jury decide the outcome? (6) Who are all of the people who you usually see sitting watching in court? (7) Why should people have to pay for a lawyer when they do not think that they did anything wrong? and (8) Are the rules the same for both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s lawyer?
Finally, I have found that some youth are curious about the possibility of them attending law school, and the process of how they would get there. They ask me if the tests that I took to get in (the LSAT’s) are difficult, and if I find law school itself hard. I have also been asked questions about how much it costs, whether I am happy with my decision to come to law school, and what kind of lawyer I would like to be.
Overall, I have found that the questions that I have been asked by Afghan youth are probably similar to those that I would be asked by Canadian youth more generally, or even maybe by my parents. However, knowing the answers to questions such as what a person’s rights are if stopped by police, I would think, has the potential to have a greater impact on the groups of people who are most likely to find themselves in situations like this one. This is the knowledge that OJEN strives to instill in these youth groups, and is more generally the importance of the job that they do.
by Brandon Burke
Pro Bono Students Canada