The 2022 Summer Law Institute Webinar Series for educators featured a session about Ontario’s Justice Centres. These centres are part of a new and innovative strategy to move justice out of traditional courtroom settings and into community spaces. There are four Justice Centres in Ontario, one in Thunder Bay, one in London and two in Toronto.
Among the speakers at the webinar, was Jacquline Dyer, who manages the Mmere Dane Justice Centre program at the Delta Family Resource Centre, one of the two Justice Centres in Toronto. Located in Toronto’s northwest, it focuses on the needs of Black and racialized youth between ages 12 and 17 who are charged with offenses.
I recognized Jacquie at once from an article I wrote about her 11 years ago as part of a series celebrating OJEN’s 10th Anniversary. At the time, Jacquie was a student involved in the mock trial programs we ran in partnership with Toronto Community Housing. She initially enrolled as a participant in the 6-week program running in the northwest part of the city. Later, as a Youth Mentor, she encouraged other young people to sign up for the program too. Youth in her community had a lot of questions about the justice system, Jacquie said at the time. She was impressed that the judges and lawyers who volunteered with the program, came into their community on their own time to meet with the youth. I was impressed by her advocacy skills and strong commitment to the welfare and well-being of the young people in her community.
From mock trial participant to justice centre manager
That commitment has endured over the years. In her role as manager of a Justice Centre program at Delta Family Resource Centre, she oversees a team of qualified Youth Justice and Reintegration workers that support Black and racialized youth and their families navigate the justice system.
Justice Centres are a pilot program introduced by the Ontario government nearly 2 years ago. Each of the four Justice Centres in the province focus on a unique demographic. When designing the Justice Centre program in Toronto’s northwest, community workers and community members, including youth, were consulted.
The program offers a holistic approach to the services provided for young people. The 10 -12 week program offers culturally appropriate, wrap-around services designed to support youth and prevent recidivism. Youth justice workers or family counselors in collaboration with the youth and their families develop individual plans. Counseling support is available for youth as well as their families. One-on-one workshops on healthy relationships and other life skills are offered along with non-traditional forms of healing. Families receive guidance about navigating the justice system and other complex systems, like the education system and the health care system. When appropriate, they are connected with other supports and resources available in the community.
Supporting youth and their families leads to positive outcomes
Jacquline explains that when youth are invested in establishing realistic, attainable goals for themselves, they take an active interest in achieving them. They are excited to see progress and often surpass expectations. This helps build self-confidence and a positive self-image. Parents and guardians receive the support they need to be a part of their child’s success. Jacquie talks with pride about the successes she has observed among the graduates of the program. She describes youth who have excelled in their studies, developed more positive relationships with their families and overcome a variety of personal challenges.
Encountering Jacquie after so many years was a wonderful surprise. Reconnecting has also led to exploring potential partnership opportunities with her to deliver OJEN’s pilot Together 180 (T180) program and our new Justice Canada funded public legal education program for racialized youth.
At OJEN, we have often reflected that it is difficult to measure the long-term impact of justice education programs on young people. Reconnecting with Jacquie has offered a glimpse of the potential for justice education programs to contribute meaningfully to young people’s lives and careers. As Jacquie said, “For me, OJEN shone a different light on the law and offered a healthy way to view the justice system. This kind of approach helps to set ourselves up for success.”
For more information on Toronto’s 2 Justice Centres, check out our webinar: Justice Centres: From the Courtroom to the Community.