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FROM THE OJEN BLOG

Justice Education as a Tool for Empowering Youth

Having worked with a few different youth groups, facilitating public legal education (PLE) workshops and presentations, one thing is quite evident: youth are eager to learn about the justice system and how they fit into it. “Where do I learn what my rights are?” Variations of this question are always asked by our youth, regardless of the topic of the workshop. But we, as justice educators, need to be aware of the reasons behind their interest in order to effectively empower our youth.

Firstly, youth want to know their rights so they do not feel powerless against authority or the system. The sentiment I often receive from facilitation meetings is that the youth feel that not having knowledge leaves them vulnerable to the other party. We cannot allow our youth to continue to grow with an “us against them” mentality. As much as we would like to forget, there are chances of corruption within our justice system and the youth that experience it often feel powerless to make a change. Youth feel that when there is more knowledge on one side than the other, there is a power imbalance, which makes them less likely to engage with the legal system.

Secondly, youth want to know what their options are in different situations. This ties into the power imbalance situation. If they feel as though they do not have an option in a given scenario to complain about treatment they received or to file a report about an incident that they witnessed, they feel disconnected from the system. They feel as though there is nothing they can say or do about it. We must ensure that they are given the resources and information required to advocate for their rights in the most effective way.

Lastly, youth often want information, not for themselves, but instead to teach and help their loved ones. Whether someone they know is in trouble with the law or their family needs to engage with the legal system in some way, youth often want the information to be able to educate and help family and friends. Sometimes the case involves youth who are first generation Canadians and, as such, their parents may not have the knowledge or understanding of the law. In that way, the youth must be aware of the justice system to help their friends and family who may not have the knowledge or understanding of the system.

As the quote goes, “Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hate. Hate breeds violence.” If we allow our youth to feel like they do not have the whole picture and that they have nowhere to turn for the information, then there will always be a gap between them and the justice system. They will learn to resent it. Rather, by including our youth in the conversation, they feel empowered and can likely bring about the changes they wish to see in the world. Justice educators must make sure our youth feel supported; after all, that’s all they are asking for.

 

By: Christina Canagasabey – PBSC

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