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From the OJEN Blog

The Significance of OJEN’s Justice Education Initiatives For Youth

My name is Crystal Binag. I am an incoming 2L student in Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law program. I accepted a remote 14-week internship position as a Project Officer at the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN). This position was funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO).

My position as a Project Officer involved a variety of tasks, such as reviewing OJEN’s resources to ensure that the information was accurate and up-to-date, conducting research that was utilized to develop and deliver public legal education programs for youth from vulnerable or marginalized communities, developing public legal education resources for use in high school classrooms, and assisting in planning the annual public legal education conference for teachers (the Summer Law Institute).

A specific project I worked on, in collaboration with the Outreach Team, was adapting OJEN’s Navigating Police Encounters (NPE) program to a newcomer youth audience. This was not only OJEN’s first in-person program post-pandemic, but also OJEN’s first in-person NPE program. Youth met with us to learn about the different types of encounters that police can have with the public.

My involvement in the Outreach Department allowed me to foster connections with youth from  marginalized communities who rely on OJEN’s resources and programs to receive information on complex legal topics, and how to navigate the justice system. Newcomer youth, in particular, tend to require additional support due to their language barrier, and limited (or lack of) knowledge of Canada and its services. The NPE program equips the newcomer youth participants with information, skills and knowledge to navigate police encounters. They learn the difference between a voluntary and involuntary encounter, communication strategies and the “ask, then act” tip. They are also introduced to Community Legal Education Ontario’s (CLEO) Steps to Justice website,  a valuable resource that provides practical information about dealing with common legal problems. First, we shared basic information about the policing system in Canada, such as describing the three levels of police enforcement. This was important because as a facilitator, you cannot presume the level of knowledge that a youth, especially a newcomer youth, may possess. 

My involvement at the Ontario Justice Education Network emphasized the importance of a youth-centric framework. Youth may not be able to recognize a legal problem, or know who to ask for help and where that help is provided. OJEN’s commitment to providing justice education for youth has provided youth with an abundance of knowledge ranging from Criminal Law to Employment Law, who and where to ask for help (in their relevant communities), and increasing their ability to recognize legal problems through hypothetical scenarios.

It is important to ensure that youth are not intimidated by the legal profession, and understand how to navigate the justice system. In spite of working remotely, I successfully fostered connections with youth participants through a series of icebreaker activities and games. In fact, one youth participant expressed his interest in my decision to pursue a career in law, and asked me questions about the application process to law school.

I will cherish my involvement at the Ontario Justice Education Network, especially my experience working with youth. As a racialized woman and a first-generation student, I accepted my position with OJEN in hopes of acting as a role model for youth and empowering each youth participant. Instead, the youth empowered me to continue to be resilient and overcome challenges, and reminded me why I decided to pursue a career in law; to help people.

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