Youth Take Over the Courtroom: Toronto Community Housing Youth Make Their Cases

Youth Take Over the Courtroom: Toronto Community Housing Youth Make Their Cases

April 22, 2008

A year after Cooper Mills' dramatic courtroom victory in the Ontario Justice Education Network's (OJEN) February mock trial, the young legal team fell short of convincing the jury to convict the mock defendant, Chester Le's BJ Dacosta.

Youth from two Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods - Cooper Mills for the prosecution and Chester Le for the defence - robed up and faced off to search for the truth behind the vicious beating and robbery of a 15 year old.

Participating in this mock trial was more than 20 Toronto Community Housing youth who had prepared for the last four weeks to appear as lawyers, court staff, and witnesses (including the accused). Presiding over the proceedings was Justice Kofi Barnes from the Ontario Court of Justice. It's all part of a program to demystify the justice system and inspire youth who live in social housing to consider careers in the justice system.

This was the 6th edition of Toronto Community Housing's OJEN Mock Trial. Ontario Justice Kofi Barnes was impressed with the young peoples' ability to deliver despite the unnerving setting and lights and cameras of the interested media outlets that covered the event.

Community Housing Unit 22 - Don Mills-Agincourt Youth Engagement Coordinator, Clinton Reid spoke of the program's impact, "OJEN is a great opportunity for youth to get involved about their rights in a hands-on way. We are working to find programs and partnerships that get youth involved and active in their communities."

The next mock trials will take place this summer. More youth will have the opportunity to learn about the youth justice system and explore careers in law.

Piloted in 2005, this justice education program, delivered by real judges, assistant crown attorneys and defence counsel, is a partnership between the Ontario Justice Education Network and Toronto Community Housing. The mock trial is the culmination of a larger program that brings judges, lawyers, bail supervisors, probations staff, diversion staff and duty counsel into Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods to speak candidly with youth about the justice system.