Gabrielle is a graduate of two OJEN mock hearing projects delivered in partnership with the Malvern Family Resource Centre. She bubbles with enthusiasm when she talks about her experience.
“Before I did the OJEN programs, I actually didn’t think much about the justice system,” Gabrielle said. “I learned some things in school, but it can be pretty dry material.”
In the first justice education session, when she was in the seventh or eighth grade, she was the youngest of the participants. As a naturally introverted person, she was a little intimidated and unsure of herself. But when an opportunity came up to participate in another, she knew it was something she wanted to do.
Her second experience was much different. Gabrielle really connected with the mock trial scenario, R v Wai, a drug possession and trafficking case involving a youth as the accused. She felt strongly that the accused in the case was innocent and that the charges were unfair. She felt so passionately about it that she volunteered to take on the role of defense lawyer.
“We were told that mock trial scenarios are based on real life cases. I thought, if it was one of my friends who had been arrested, I would want someone to stand up and fight for him.”
Over the six week program, defense lawyers, Crown attorneys and other justice sector professionals met with the participants to explain court procedure and coach them on examining evidence, building a case and questioning witnesses.
“I really got to understand how the whole system comes together,” said Gabrielle. “The amazing volunteers explained about court etiquette. There is a special way to act in a courtroom, like why everyone stands up when the judge enters the courtroom. If you don’t understand the protocol it can be intimidating.”
Was she nervous presenting her arguments in a courtroom in front of a real judge?
“Well, it was a bit nerve wracking, but I was so passionate about what I was doing, that really helped. I was definitely going outside my comfort zone. I had to step outside of who I was and become a lawyer”
What did Gabrielle learn about herself through this activity?
“One thing I learned was that I have the ability to speak out. Also, before I did the mock trial, I had all these stereotypes of what a lawyer was like and I thought, ‘that’s one more career that’s not for me.’ Now I’m considering a career in law.”
Although still only in grade 10, Gabrielle has started thinking about what her future might hold. “It’s very important to make a positive impact in the world,” she said. “We’re fortunate to live in Canada, especially as women. In other parts of the world, some girls don’t go to school and have to marry really early. There’s a lot of racial and gender inequality in the world. I’m thinking I might be interested in human rights law.”
Would she feel more confident now talking to lawyers or other justice professionals in different circumstances?
Gabrielle says she would definitely feel more confident. Last year she got a summer job through the Youth in Policing Initiative with the Toronto Police Services. This, as well as the mock trial experience, gave her a new perspective on the people who work in the justice system.
“A lot of youth feel afraid of talking to the police. I’ve had a chance to see a more casual side of law professionals so I see them as people like everyone else.”
How would she encourage other youth to participate in a justice education activity?
“Go for it! What have you got to lose? It’s informative. It will give you a little taste of what a career in the law is like and you may discover strengths you never knew you had.”