DaretoDream copy

Order in the classroom!

First Nations students transform their classroom into a courtroom with the help of Canadian Lawyers Abroad
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
First Nations students transform their classroom into a courtroom with the help of Canadian Lawyers Abroad
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print

On Thursday, December 6, Justice Harry LaForme sat ready to preside over his morning court session. But he wasn’t in Osgoode Hall, he was in a classroom at the First Nations School of Toronto, where the defence, the Crown, the accused, the victim, bailiffs, witnesses and jury were all Grade 7 and 8 students, dressed in oversized robes.

This mock courtroom was a part of the Toronto pilot of the “Dare to Dream” program, launched by Canadian Lawyers Abroad, which teaches Aboriginal youth about legal issues, the law and its application. Justice LaForme — the first Aboriginal judge to be appointed to an appellate court in Canada— came to Thursday’s “courtroom” dressed in full Judge attire, and brought with him an eagle feather to be used in the swearing of oaths.

The students were coached by lawyer mentors — 14 lawyers and two law students participated — who instructed them on how to perform the various roles. Mark Platteel, an associate at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, had trained the defence or “the wrongly accused,” as he quickly added, getting into the spirit of things. Platteel had also been kind enough to lend his suit jacket to one of the bailiffs after an unfortunate shortage of robes. Though the jacket swamped the young bailiff, his authority was by no means diminished.

The fictional case involved an assault that took place on Queen Street East in the Riverside neighbourhood, just a few blocks away from the school. The victim, Jared, had been attacked by two people on the evening of December 5, 2011. He had suffered two broken ribs, a broken nose and severe bruising as a result, and his basketball shoes had been stolen. Jared later identified the accused, Dylan, as one of the attackers. Dylan had been in the same area at the time Jared had been attacked, but he stated under questioning that he had not seen Jared that night.

The court was in session for over an hour and once the defence and the Crown had provided their (very eloquent) closing arguments, Justice LaForme commended their efforts and dismissed the jury. After a tense wait, the jury returned with the verdict of “not guilty,” which prompted the five defence counsels to all high five — perhaps differing from a real court there.

Catherine McKenna, the executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, believes the Dare to Dream program gives students a better sense of what it means to be a lawyer and helps overcome negative views of the legal system.

Justice LaForme said that the morning had been “very special for [him]” and he told the students that he hoped they had enjoyed it as much as he had.

Photos courtesy of Canadian Lawyers Abroad