In 2012, unaware of what Law Day was and the positive impact it would have on my life, I volunteered to co-chair the Elementary School Mock Trials program with fellow OBA volunteer, Julia Lefebvre, at the encouragement of the current chair (and super-human), Karen Perron. Six years later, I can say that Law Day has been the most important and worthwhile part of being an OBA volunteer and something that I have looked forward to beginning each April. I’m sure that anyone who participated in the program as a teacher, student or lawyer-volunteer shares these sentiments.
The OBA manages three Law Day programs: Elementary School Mock Trials (ESMT), OBA-OJEN Competitive Mock Trials (OOCMT), and the Your ChARTer program (formerly known as the Expressly Law Day). While the ESMT and the OOCMT are mock trial programs, Your ChARTer is a creative arts contest that invites Ontario students to submit original visual or written pieces of work that represent the core principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and what it means to them. Law Day so profoundly influences students that several lawyers told me participating in the elementary or secondary school programs is what inspired them to pursue a career in law. This year’s initiatives, in particular, had a profound effect on me.
For 2018, the Law Day Committee had one mandate: to expand Law Day to involve all jurisdictions across Ontario. I’m happy to report that we succeeded in achieving that mandate and even exceeded our goals. We increased the visibility of the ESMT across the province and in new communities like Sarnia, Sudbury, Timmins, Burlington, Maple, and even Ilderton. The OOCMT expanded to include first-time schools in communities like Bracebridge, Brighton, Haliburton, Fonthill, Port Elgin, Chatham, Espanola, and Strathroy. The engagement of lawyer-volunteers climbed throughout Ontario. In the ESMT, volunteers increased in 2018 to 197, and in the OOCMT, with more volunteers we were able to hold 32 events and focus on improving the quality of local tournaments. However, the most significant change involved rethinking the Expressly Law Day program.
Your ChARTer launched this year through the hard work of an OBA Working Committee consisting mostly of lawyers in the OBA’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and with the guidance of veteran Expressly Law Day coordinator, Deidre Newman. We identified an opportunity to bring the program to more classrooms and students in Ontario by transitioning the in-person creative arts contest to an online platform. Elementary and secondary students from across the province were encouraged to submit creative pieces – capturing this year’s theme, “How I Live the Charter” – in a format of their choice ranging from videos and digital artwork to essays and poems.
For the first time, OBA/YLD members presented the program to their local schools, teaching students about the Charter and their experiences in the legal profession, to guide the students, allow them to ask questions and inspire the class to create an artistic expression of the theme.
In its inaugural year, 10 schools participated and more than 100 elementary and secondary school students across Ontario submitted a creative art piece. The top 10 finalists were selected for each category – elementary and secondary school – and OBA members were invited to help select the winners by voting for their favourite entries. More than 300 votes were cast for both categories. The winners were rewarded with an award certificate and a special congratulatory video message from the Honourable George Strathy, Chief Justice of Ontario. You can view the winning entries and video message from Chief Justice George Strathy at www.oba.org/YourChARTer2018Winners.
A few weeks before volunteering for Law Day, I injured myself in my second squash match ever, painfully tearing my calf muscle (aka, the “medial gastrocnemius” for those insurance practitioners out there), which had me temporarily in crutches and a walking cast. In May 2018, I volunteered to deliver the new Your ChARTer program to four Grades 7 and 8 classes from Zion Heights Middle School. As I was explaining the history of the Charter, we started discussing some principles, and I asked the students how they thought the Charter protected people. One of the students pointed down at my temporary walking cast-boot and said: “Well, the Charter helps people who have a hard time getting around get to where they need to go, like you and like my grandmother.” That was absolutely right! My temporary injury sparked a conversation with the class about people with accessibility needs and forever changed me as a result. I’m very proud that the first, second and third place winners in the elementary category, all from Zion Heights Middle School, received that special congratulatory video message from the Honourable George Strathy.
As I step down as Chair of Law Day this year, and pass the reins on to the exceptionally capable Julia Vizzacarro, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Law Day Committee members, the Your ChARTer Working Group, the lawyer-volunteers, parents, teachers, students and the supportive OBA staff who have helped the Law Day program succeed year after year. If you have a child in elementary or secondary school, you should encourage their school to participate. If you have never volunteered for Law Day, you should. Law Day has given me so much throughout the years, but this year, it forever changed my outlook on accessibility and ability – and it all started with a discussion about the Charter with a group of keen seventh- and eighth-graders.
About the author
Kerri Salata chaired the OBA Law Day Committee from 2016 – 2018.