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'It's almost like you're a real lawyer': Brampton students win Peel mock trial competition

Students take part in the Ontario Bar Association's mock trial competition to learn about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Harold M. Brathwaite Secondary School will compete in Guelph for regionals

Hargun Grewal objects to the mock trial defence lawyer's question. (John Lesavage/CBC News)

In a Mississauga courtroom, Hargun Grewal rises and objects to the defence lawyer asking the witness for an opinion.

It's a serious case involving dangerous driving and assault, and all sides are playing to win.

All of which makes it just like any other Wednesday at the Ontario Court of Justice on Burnhamthorpe Road West, except for one thing: the lawyers, victims and accused are all high school students and the case is fictitious.

The students are taking part in a mock trial competition aimed at teaching them how Canada's justice system works..

It's almost like you're a real lawyer.- Hargun Grewal, Grade 12 student

As the chief prosecutor, Grewal is arguing for the Crown in the case.

"The way we go through the system it's almost like you're a real lawyer and you're going through the evidence packets and affidavits," Grewal said.

The Grade 12 student from Harold M. Brathwaite Secondary School in Brampton was on one of six teams from Peel regional high schools competing in an event held as part of the Ontario Bar Association's "Law Day."

Other schools included:

  • Sandalwood Heights Secondary School
  • Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School
  • Fletcher's Meadow Secondary School
  • Glenforest Secondary School
  • Safa and Marwa Islamic School

In three separate proceedings based on the same case, the teams rotated through the roles of Crown and defence lawyers with volunteer judges and lawyers presiding. At the end, those professionals delivered verdicts and rated the students' work.

Canadians 'take so much for granted' about the law

David Sterns, president of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA), explained the event was founded 35 years ago to teach students about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They're experiencing firsthand why the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is so integral to everything we do.- David Sterns, Ontario Bar Association president

Compared to the United States, where Sterns said children are familiar with that country's Bill of Rights and sometimes "even recite it," Canadians "take so much for granted."

Being in court for the mock trial is more than acting, he said. "They're experiencing firsthand why the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is so integral to everything we do."

Melanie Zorayan, who teaches law to students in Grade 11 and Grade 12, originally pursued a career in law. But when one of her professors suggested "we need this kind of passion in a classroom," she became a teacher and "never looked back."

David Sterns, president of the Ontario Bar Association, says the competitions helps students understand why 'the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is so integral to everything we do.' (John Lesavage/CBC News)

She started working with the Harold M. Brathwaite Secondary School teams eight years ago. She coached its senior team, which was also competing in the Ontario Court of Justice in Mississauga, through an international competition in New York last year.

"They're very competitive. They're ambitious. They want to bring their best advocacy skills to the courtroom," Zorayan said.

Mocking it up

Her high school is the only one in Peel with a specialized program in justice, community safety and emergency services. The mock trials, both at the school and then at the Ontario competition, are a core part of that "unique" education, she says.

Whether students are interested in justice studies or not, Zorayan said the process gets students to step out of their comfort zones and develop strong presentation skills.

Melanie Zorayan, right, who teaches law to Grade 11 and Grade 12 students, watches the competition.

Grewal wants to pursue a career as a defence lawyer, whereas Khushpal Pawar, 16, is interested in politics.

Pawar took part in the trial as a defence witness and watched the Crown and defence teams present their cases.

"It helps build you. It helps build your passions. It helps build your experience," he said.

The hours of late night preparation and run-throughs appear to have paid off for his team. Harold M. Brathwaite Secondary School's senior team won first place at the competition Wednesday and will go on to the regional championships in Guelph next month.

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.

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