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From the OJEN Blog

OJEN hosts first committee chairs’ meeting

The first meeting of local OJEN Committee chairs from across Ontario took place on October 27th by Zoom video conference.  Committee chairs from 15 of the 17 committees attended. 

Local OJEN committees support the delivery of OJEN’s province-wide programs while developing justice education activities tailored to the specific needs of their own communities. Over the past 20 years, the number of local committees has grown steadily.  The October 27th meeting offered an opportunity to share information about successful programming initiatives happening across the province.

While Covid-19 made it necessary to suspend most regular justice education activities, several committees have found innovative approaches to program delivery during this time.  This meeting profiled the unique ways in which 4 local committees offer the Courthouse Visit program virtually.

Courthouse Visits are a mainstay of OJEN’s Courtrooms and Classrooms program.  Each year approximately 30,000 students visit courthouses throughout Ontario where they observe court in action.  Many courthouses also provide additional programming such as opportunities to meet with judges, lawyers and court staff, or tour the facility. Covid-19 brought this popular school field trip to an end until the Algoma, Halton, Hamilton and London committees adapted the program to a virtual platform. 

Algoma committee

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, the Algoma committee offered school groups virtual tours of the courthouse, hosted by Court Services Division members. The live tour included courtrooms, Judicial Chambers and cells.  Along the way, the tour guides stopped and introduced students to some of the court staff, who explained their roles and answered questions. Special guest presenters representing various justice sector careers were also recruited to speak to the students about the work they do and the career path they took.  Read a full report on the Algoma Courthouse Visit program here.

Hamilton committee

The Hamilton committee has been successfully facilitating virtual court visits since the fall of 2020. With the support of several dedicated committee volunteers, they have established a simple process that works well for their region. School board representatives email the law teachers in their school board with available dates for students to observe court proceedings.  They are asked to respond with preferred dates and to indicate if they would like a judge or an articling student to speak to their students.  The lists are forwarded to the Crown representative on the committee, and she consults with the trial coordinator to book classes to observe either a trial or a guilty plea. Teachers are provided with a Zoom link for the court proceeding. Read more about the Hamilton Courthouse Visit program here.

Halton committee

The Courthouse Visit program in Halton continues to reach as many students now virtually as it did before the pandemic.  The responsibility for coordinating court visits has been assumed by a Justice of the Peace, since bail court has been popular with teachers.   He communicates directly with the teachers who call him to set up a visit.  He will also arrange for a Crown or defense lawyer to speak with their classes if they wish.   Judges have also been extremely supportive of the activity and inform the committee when there are court proceedings that would be interesting to teachers.  

London committee

In pre-Covid-19 times the London Committee provided an innovative Courthouse Visit program, including a courthouse tour and mock sentencing demonstration that was extremely popular with local schools. Read about it here.  Now, teachers wishing to participate in virtual classroom visits are able to access the court docket for the next day on the Middlesex Law Association website and receive a Zoom link for the session they wish to attend. 

A different kind of educational experience

Virtual courthouse visits offer a different but valuable learning opportunity for students. Although the experience of physically entering a new environment can’t be replicated, there are other advantages to remote courthouse visits. As the Algoma committee discovered with their program, virtual activities may be more accessible for some people.  Students who are not otherwise able to travel to a courthouse due to distance or other reasons, can see court in session without leaving their classroom. Teachers have also mentioned that observing court remotely makes it possible to address student questions about courtroom proceedings when they arise; they can simply mute the proceedings and explain what is going on in real time. 
At a time when students have fewer opportunities for field trips and extra-curricular activities, virtual court visits are an opportunity to augment classroom learning. For committees interested in offering virtual courthouse visits and wishing to learn more, please feel free to contact us at, and we will connect you with the committees who are offering this program.

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