Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Aboriginal youth group shot

Getting ready for the mock trial: the 2015 cohort of the Aboriginal Youth Summer Program

First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth from across Canada spent a week at the law school participating in a mock trial, visiting court houses and hearing from elders to learn about law and how it intersects with the lives of Aboriginal people.

“The overarching goal of the Aboriginal Youth Summer Program is to engage and inspire high school students to continue their studies and consider pursuing a legal education,” said Lisa Del Col, the Aboriginal Law Program coordinator.

From June 29 to July 3rd, 15 youth from the Greater Toronto Area, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Coral Harbour, Nunavut participated in the AYSP, organized by Del Col and co-educators, law alumna Emilie Lahaie, JD 2014, and Justin Khan, Law in Action Within Schools program coordinator.

The academic sessions included the duty to consult, section 35 and wampum diplomacy. Students were also introduced to the court system and completed a mini mock trial, where they put the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy on trial for murdering the Wicked Witch of the West.

Aboriginal youth in mock trial

Students travelled to the College Park courthouse to observe Gladue court, receiving a lesson about the Gladue principles from alumna Promise Holmes Skinner, JD 2013, and had a candid discussion with Justice Rosenthal during a court recess. Traditional components were also integrated into the program, including a lesson on the Seven Grandfather teachings and some traditional crafts to give the youth an opportunity to be creative.

Each of these sessions was designed to equip the youth with the knowledge and skills to partake in the culminating activity, which was a negotiation exercise. Students were assigned “clients” that they were to represent on a negotiation with a resource company that wished to develop a mine on a fictional First Nations site. The students, under the guidance of volunteer lawyers who coached them, represented the Crown, the Band Council, Youth Council, Women’s Council and Elder’s Council. Faculty of Law alumni Matt Brown, JD 2013, and Josh Stark, JD 2013, acted as “Brown Co.”, the resource company proposing to develop a mine site on the land.

Aboriginal youth doing traditional crafts

“All participants used creativity to passionately argue their clients’ positions,” said Del Col. “They brought the exercise to a whole new level by proposing several caucuses with other parties to team up together on certain issues. The coaches and educators were thoroughly impressed with the abilities presented by the youth throughout the exercise.”

In addition to the educational program, the AYSP youth were given a taste of university life by staying in dorms at U of T’s New College and participating in evening activities with their counsellors and fellow students. The co-educators also managed to get the youth up to the CN Tower for the ultimate Toronto experience.

Aboriginal youth group shot in front of CN Tower

Throughout the sessions and exercises, students were introduced to positive role models from the community and made lasting friendships with other youth from across the country. One parent wrote: “How wonderful it was that the kids met and formed a bond with other like-minded individuals to help each other towards their individual goals…Miigwetch for invoking passion in my son about the law.”

This participant wrote of a new goal in life: “I [didn’t know] anything about the law, but [now] maybe I’ll try for ‘lawyer’ one day…This is something I’ll never forget. Hopefully I’ll come back and meet everyone again somewhere, sometime in the future.”


The Faculty of Law thanks its AYSP partners, without whom the program could not run – the LAWS Program, New College, and our funders, the Walter and Mary Tuohy Foundation.