Ontario Justice Education Network / Reseau Ontarien D'Education Juridique

The Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), founded by Ontario’s three Chief Justices in 2002, is a collaborative network of organizations devoted to promoting public understanding, education and dialogue to support a responsive and inclusive justice system.

Human Rights workshop for newcomer youth.Our Impact Why We Exist

The Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) is a charitable organization that functions as a collaborative network of organizations and individuals devoted to promoting public understanding, education and dialogue to support a responsive and inclusive justice system. OJEN develops projects and education initiatives that introduce young people to the justice system, enhance their understanding of law as a critical component of our democracy, and build their legal capability so that they might better manage the legal aspects of everyday problems.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

The Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) was established by Ontario’s three Chief Justices of Ontario in 2002 as a collaborative network of organizations that would facilitate justice education locally and provincially. 

In its first five years, OJEN focussed on developing programs and resources for Law and Civics teachers and students, to enhance their knowledge of the justice system and to provide opportunities for meaningful interaction with justice sector professionals. 

In 2004 the Ontario Trillium Foundation provided capacity funding for OJEN to research and develop strategies to meet the needs of communities of youth with historically negative relationships with the justice system.  OJEN used this funding to build strong relationships with communities, individuals and educators working with Aboriginal, immigrant, Francophone and at-risk youth.  New justice education projects were developed and evaluated, and replication strategies to make them widely available were established.  

Now in its 14th year, OJEN has a staff of 15 with offices in Toronto and Ottawa.  Programs are delivered in collaboration with approximately 3000 active volunteers.  Last year nearly 200,000 youth in Ontario had a positive interaction with the justice system through OJENs programs and an estimated 1,500,000 have been impacted by OJEN's programs since 2002.

Accolades and Accomplishments

OJEN impacts over 200,000 young people each year with its justice education programs and resources.  While many high-school students are introduced to OJEN through court visits, mock trial programs and classroom resources we develop, our dynamic community initiatives are enormously successful at connecting with youth who have a historically challenging relationship with the justice system, or are disengaged from the school system.  Last year nearly 800 youth in high-risk communities across the GTA took part in OJEN projects. By collaborating with community youth-serving organizations, we have been able to provide programs that are directly relevant to specific youth populations.  Our Agent of the Landlord program delivers information about housing and policing issues that uniquely affect youth living in Toronto Community Housing.  More than 50 young mothers participated in our Young Parents’ program, which helped them develop advocacy skills and inform them of their parental rights.  Nearly 300 young girls and women took part in justice education programs that highlighted family law issues. Over 230 newcomer youth learned about the Canadian justice system.  Last year, OJEN partnered with 48 different community organizations, creating opportunities for youth and justice sector volunteers to engage in dialogue and deepen their understanding of one another.

Our Programs How We Do It

OJEN’s programming falls into three main areas:

OJEN’s community outreach programs focus on the experiences and needs of communities of youth with a historically negative relationship with the justice system. OJEN offers programs and justice education initiatives for Aboriginal youth, newcomer youth, Francophone youth, and youth living in underserviced communities. Delivered primarily in the Toronto region, these programs create opportunities for dialogue between youth and justice professionals; common misconceptions about the legal system are addressed, while affording an opportunity to learn about the other’s community.

OJEN’s school-based programs aim to connect young people and justice professionals in a range of activities that emphasize role modeling, advocacy, substantive legal knowledge, and access to civic institutions. Programs are generally delivered by OJEN volunteers using replication templates and resources developed by OJEN staff. Regional OJEN Committees adapt programs to reflect the local community.

OJEN is well respected source of educator support.  OJEN’s resource library has been created largely through the pro bono contributions of judges, lawyers, law clerks, teachers and students.  Each resource is reviewed by lawyers, educators and high school students to ensure legal accuracy, relevance to the curriculum and plain language readability before release. With approximately 250 resources in French and English downloadable free of charge, OJEN’s website is a trusted destination for secondary school teachers of Law and Civics, as well as many other courses.  English as a Second Language instructors, elementary school teachers and community youth workers also use OJEN’s classroom resources. OJEN’s professional development programs for adults who work with youth, focus primarily on educators and youth workers. Each year, teachers have the opportunity to meet directly with judges and lawyers through OJEN’s Law Institutes, which provide professional development through a series of lectures and interactive sessions with legal professionals.

Talking Law - Justice Education Workshops for ESL and Newcomer Students

OJEN's programs emphasize experiential learning and the development of legal capability. Developed in collaboration with ESL teachers, OJEN’s Talking Law Seriesis a collection of scenario-based workshops written in plain-language that introduce ESL students and newcomers to Canada to the basics of Canadian Law. These student-centred workshops offered in the areas of Employment Law, Youth Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Immigration Law, and Civil Law, give participants the chance to direct their own learning. Based on the interests and needs identified by the participants, teachers request a lawyer facilitator to lead a workshop in that area of law.

OJEN recruits lawyer volunteers to facilitate the workshops and provides resources to teachers with vocabulary exercises and knowledge-building activities which prepare students for the lawyers’ visit. Workshops themselves provide practical information about the law as it pertains to daily life, and experience applying the acquired knowledge in a culminating activity. They also explain where newcomers and their families can go for assistance in their communities. 

OJEN attempts to recruit workshop facilitators who reflect participants own communities or who come from immigrant backgrounds themselves and gives participants opportunities to learn about career paths in the justice sector. 

Funding and Program Partners

OJEN receives core funding from The Law Foundation of Ontario for operational expenses, allowing all donations or fundraising to focus on project costs.

Newcomer projects are offered in partnership with community organizations such as: Afghan Women's Organization, Aga Khan Council of Ontario, Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services, Halton Multicultural Council,  Malton Neighbourhood Servies, Parkdale Community Information Centre, Seneca College, Toronto District School Board,  York Region District School Board.

Program Impact

OJEN has delivered programs to approximately 1000 newcomer and ESL students introducing them to the Ontario justice system, which may be radically different from what the system of justice they knew in their home countries, and giving them practical information on how the law applies to them in their daily lives, while also developing presentation and vocabulary skills.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"In Toronto, the province-wide cuts to the Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program means a loss of programming that assists vulnerable students in navigating the school system and accessing services in the community. The loss of settlement programs like SWIS will likely make the adjustment more difficult for newcomer students and have a negative impact on academic outcomes."

(Toronto's Vital Signs® 2011)

Participant Vignette

For Cristiane, meeting the lawyers who volunteered in her program was a revelation.  Hearing them talk about the high standard of ethical expectations within Canada’s justice system gave her new appreciation for the practice of law.

Before moving to Canada just over three years ago with her husband and two daughters, Cristiane was a lawyer and human rights activist in Brazil, defending landless peasants in their struggle for agrarian reform.  In a system were corruption was commonplace and the rule of law did not exist, she had become discouraged by the failure of court system.  When she left Brazil to find a better life for her family she had no intention of practicing law again.

 “The OJEN program enabled me to see and participate in a legal system I was not familiar with. I witnessed how the Canadian justice system provides more space for creativity and community involvement in the solution of the problems, like in the role of the surety in the bail decision. This was inspiring because my experience with the law in Brazil was very different.”

“When I first came to Canada I didn’t think about being a lawyer again because I was really disappointed in my profession. After the experience with OJEN I started considering the possibility of working in the law field again.   

The justice system in Canada is really, really awesome.  It’s one of the main reasons that makes me love this country.”

Active Citizens

Citizens in Canada’s democratic society have rights and responsibilities that go beyond voting in elections.

OJEN’s Active Citizens Program gives youth and newcomers to Canada opportunities to look at the issues affecting them in their schools and communities and learn about the avenues open to them to effect positive change.  Looking at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a starting point, participants learn about the role of the courts and how laws have helped to shape society. They also find out how advocacy can be used as a tool to promote change and meet community leaders who have advocated for social justice projects.  Participants are encouraged to apply the knowledge they have gained in the workshop to create action plans to address issues that are important to them.

Workshops culminate in activities that vary depending on the nature of the specific projects, including radio segments, letter writing and a documentary film.

Funding and Program Partners

OJEN receives core funding from The Law Foundation of Ontario for operational expenses, allowing all donations or fundraising to focus on project costs.

Active Citizens is delivered in partnership with community organizations including: Seneca College, Grade, 10, 11, 12, E.S.L. and Special Education classes at the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Toronto District School Board, Boys and Girls clubs and newcomer organizations.

Program Impact

Youth learn about how the law can protect or promote social justice.  They develop their own ideas for improving their communities and prepare action plans for civic engagement in their local communities.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Young adults (aged 20 - 34) have, on average, a weaker sense of belonging than older adults, although the percentage reporting a strong or somewhat strong sense of belonging rose in the city of Toronto to 65.4% in 2010."

(Toronto's Vital Signs® 2011)

Participant Vignette

While participating in an Active Citizens project, a group of high school students noticed a sign in a pizza store near their school that singling out students from their school with rules about not loitering, playing games or bringing outside food into the restaurant.  They decided to research their rights and to find out what they could do to have the discriminatory sign removed. After interviewing a lawyer about discrimination and individual rights, they wrote a letter to the restaurant owner which resulted in him taking down the sign.

Hella, one of the students in the group, made this observation: 

“It’s pretty bad that adults think youth can be discriminated against and that they just won’t do anything.  Maybe it is a bit true – it takes a lot of determination to see a problem and try to resolve it but one thing we learned is that although the law might not be behind us, we can still try to change something. There are so many things that affect us and I think it’s good when we take a stand even if it doesn’t turn out the way we expected. If you think someone is treating someone else unfairly, don’t just let it go – do something about it.”

Mock Trial Program

Stepping into the shoes of a Crown attorney, defense lawyer or court clerk, brings the law to life for young people who participate in OJENs mock trials.  The experiential aspect of this popular justice education program makes the roles of legal professionals, court procedure and legal concepts accessible to youth in academic and non-academic settings.

OJEN provides all the resources needed to enact a mock trial, including over 200 mock hearing scenarios with teachers guides and facilitators package. Lawyer coaches are  recruited from an active volunteer force who work with the participants to build their understanding of the justice system and strengthen their research, advocacy and critical thinking skills.

Participants work as a team to put together their theory of a case and legal arguments which are then presented before a real judge in a courthouse. Volunteer judges often use this opportunity to also introduce  newcomer youth to issues such as independence of the judiciary, senctencing considerations and the role of courts within a democracy.

OJEN  conducts outreach to communities of youth with a historically negative relationship with the justice system. Delivered primarily in the Toronto region, these programs create opportunities for dialogue between youth andthe  justice sector community.

Funding and Program Partners

OJEN receives core funding from The Law Foundation of Ontario.

The Mock Trial projects are offered in partnership with community organizations that provide recreational or edcuational programs for youth. These partners include: 

Afghan Women’s Organization,  Breaking the Cycle, East Metro Youth Services, Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services, East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, For Youth Initiative, Ismaili Council For Ontario,  Jamaican Canadian Association, Malton Neighbourhood Services, Malvern Family Resource Centre, Peel Youth Village, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto Community Housing, Toronto District School Board,  West Scarborough Neighbourhood Community Centre, Your Road to Success 

Program Impact

Mock Trial Projects allow youth to challenge their own misconceptions about the justice sytem, expereince the different careers in the courthouse and develop advocacy skills.  Lawyers and judges volunteering in the proejct have the opportunity to develop positive relationships with youth and to hear directly about the perceptions of the justice system.

Communities benefit from groups of youth with accurate understandings of their rights and the mechanisms of the justicesystem who also know how to access legal advice and assistance.  The relationship with local police improves after completion of an OJEN Mock Trial program as youth have a better understanding of the roles and process and aere also able to use their advocacy skills to deesclate minor conflicts.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Research has long found that engagement in the educational process is linked to not just better academic outcomes, but lower rates of delinquency. A strong school bond has been shown to have a protective role for at-risk children against both violent and non-violent behaviours. But recent research goes even further, and suggests that high school graduates are more than 90% less likely to have an adult offending record than dropouts with similar early life experience. The employment and social possibilities offered by graduation appear to reduce the risk of criminal activity in early adulthood."

(Toronto's Vital Signs® 2011)

Participant Vignette

Jacquie learned about OJEN three years ago when the Youth Engagement Coordinator in her community invited her to participate in a six week mock trial program.  

“The most satisfying thing for me was being in the room with lawyers getting all the questions that I had in my mind answered and just being involved in something that was completely different because we never had anything like this in the community before. You were being taught things you could use in your everyday life.”

“The most challenging part of being in the program for me was the actual mock trial. I was meeting the other community for the first time, I was talking in front of a real judge and there were other observers around, so it was a bit nerve wracking in the beginning. But it was an overall great experience. After I did it, I felt really good. I felt proud that all that knowledge I learned I displayed in front of people.” 

Three years later, Jacquie was studying Sociology and Criminal Law at Ryerson University.  She isn’t sure where it will take her yet but she knows she wants to be involved in community development and youth engagement. “I guess growing up in the community I lived in and seeing different things  made me interested in getting involved in the community in every kind of way possible and law is one of them.”

She has also become a youth mentor and facilitates other young people in her community getting involved with the OJEN program. 

“I’m amazed at the impact this program can have in only six weeks”, “says Jacquie. “It can change your life.  It changed my life.  I left understanding the justice system a whole lot more than I did before.  I felt there was more hope for justice. There is hope for change, hope for it to be different, hope for positive.” 

What You Can Do

Family Law For Young Parents (FLYP) Program

Activities a donation will support

Donations to OJEN's Family Law for Young Parents projects will cover the costs of of expanding this new project from it's successful pilot stage to reach a wider audience.  In its first two years, it reached 52 young mothers through 4 youth serving organizations in Toronto. With approximately 20 more organizations serving young mothers in the GTA, there is a great demand for this program. The program is designed to build legal capability and empower young mothers to advocate for themselves and others. Through interaction with family law professionals and experiential learning, they become familiar with relevant laws and processes and 

Donation impact

Donations to OJEN to support young mothers and, as the program grows, young fathers, to learn about how systems like the Catholic Children's Aid Society, the Office of the Children's Lawyer and the justice system work.  These systems may at times seem hostile, inaccessible, intimidating and inflexible to their needs. The program provides these vulnerable youth with opportunities to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge to more confidently navigate these systems, becoming strong advocates for themelves.  Funding for this program will allow us to increase the number of projects offered in partnership with youth serving organizations in different areas of the city and make these opportunities available to more youth.

Active Citizens

Activities a donation will support

Donations to OJEN's Active Citizens Program help with the project costs, to develop and expand this popular program. Each project provides youth with the opportunity to learn how citizens can can shape, change  or eliminate laws as a strategy to achieve social justice. The program tackles barriers to youth engagement by encouraging participants to consider their own perspectives, to research a topic, to implement action plans within the community, and to advocate directly to justice sector leadership. Funding will allow OJEN to create opportunities to meet civic leaders and a variety of student led project outcomes such as a video, audio recording, artwork, etc.

Donation impact

Donations will allow OJEN to offer this project to more youth. It will allow youth to develop their Action Plans more completely and to actually undertake the projects they planned. Projects could be documented,filmed and shared with other groups of young people to encourage and motivate more youth. Participants in the Active Citizens Program develop leadership skills and contributing postiively to Toronto's community life. The knowledge they gain in the program will encourage them to become engaged citizens throughout their lives.

Mock Trial Program

Activities a donation will support

Each Mock Trial project lasts for 6-8 weeks in a specific neighbourhood, culminating in a mock trial at the local courthouse. Donations will help to cover the costs of partnership development, transportation, food for youth participants and project supplies.

Donation impact

Increased funding would allow OJEN to offer these projects in the many communities that are currently waitlisted for a mock trial project.  Increased delivery of this project model would strengthen neighbourhoods and result in an overall improvement in the relationship betweren youth and police, lawyers and judges in Toronto.  Youth in these projects will be exposed to a variety of careers, as well as the encouragement to compelte high school and pursue college and university programs in justice-related fields.

Contact

Jessica Reekie
Executive Director
416.761.9963 x225
Charitable Number: 855489134RR0001

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