Saskatoon Aboriginal students hold mock trial, consider law careers

Forty students from Saskatoon's St. Frances School participated in a mock drug trial Friday. It's part of a program that helps aboriginal students learn more about law and consider it as a future career.

Dare to Dream program in Saskatoon school encourages positive engagement with law

Judge Gerald Morin presided over a mock trial featuring students from St. Frances School. (Eric Anderson/CBC News)

It will be a few years before the students from Saskatoon's St. Frances School are old enough to apply to law school, but 40 students got some practice when they held an elaborate mock trial Friday.

The mock drug trial was part of the Dare to Dream program, which aims to help aboriginal students learn more about law and consider it as a future career.

The St. Frances students have been meeting weekly with University of Saskatchewan law students since November through Dare to Dream, a program created by Canadian Lawyers Abroad. The students learn the basics of the legal system and prepare their roles in the trial as prosecutor, defence lawyer; juror, and witnesses.

The trial was judged by provincial court Judge Gerald Morin.

Grade 6 student Calista Thomas played the defence lawyer for a person named Jamie Henry who was accused of drug trafficking, 

She won her case. Henry was judged to be not guilty of his crimes.

"I was hoping he was not guilty because the defence lawyers are supposed to defend him, and we did a pretty good job defending him," Thomas told CBC News, excitedly.

The students took their roles seriously, much to the delight of their teacher, Bonnie Yew.

"I am totally amazed with my students and the way that everything went today. I'm very proud of them. At our school, the teepee teaching is strength. I saw a lot of that evidenced in my students today and I'm very proud of them," she said.

According to Brittany Twiss, the executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, the mock trial is so much more than a fun game for the students.

Critical age period

Twiss says the program also helps students in grades 6-8 understand some of the consequences of a high-risk lifestyle.

Here, it's positive, it's a learning situation, it's safe, and they did a great job- Judge Gerald Morin

"We're focused on the age group 11 to 14, and the reason for that is the high disproportionate number of Aboriginal youth that are involved in the justice system as subjects at a very early age. We see 11-14 as that critical age period, where not only can they learn about their rights and understand the consequences of their actions, but also it's very important that they have a positive experience," Twiss said.

Judge Morin, a Cree man who grew up in Cumberland House, agrees the trial was an opportunity to expose Indigenous children to the justice system in a positive way.

"They're not recipients, they're participants in relation to (the justice system). To me that's very important. I think so often we see it in another situation, and not in a good situation. Here, it's positive, it's a learning situation, it's safe, and they did a great job," Morin said.

Following the trial, the children will participate in a sentencing circle, where they will pretend that the defendant in the mock trial is guilty. The students will go through the process of a sentencing circle with him.

The mock trial has already left an impact among the students. Thomas told CBC News she's determined to become a lawyer after the experience working as Henry's defence attorney.

With files from CBC's Eric Anderson