By Thomas Winterhoff
L–R: Doug Thomson (pirate), Sophia Behenna (Spectrum Community School), Didi Dufresne (third-year UVic Law student and program mentor), Lina Rahman (third-year UVic Law student and program organizer), Jane Ho (Victoria High School)
It’s not every day that teenagers get to bring a pirate to justice, but a group of Greater Victoria high school students did exactly that last month. Fictional rapscallion Captain Jack Sparrow (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) was tried in an historic courtroom as part of an innovative outreach and mentoring program developed by law students at the University of Victoria.
The Law for All (LFA) initiative is designed to educate local teens and new immigrants who are interested in studying law but — due in part to family or economic circumstances — may not have been encouraged to pursue that goal. The student-run program also wants to see more students from under-represented cultural or ethnic communities attend UVic Law. Since the faculty is already deeply committed to its equity and diversity policies, the school’s admissions office has wholeheartedly supported the LFA project.
Third-year law student Lina Rahman is a key organizer for the group and has participated in a number of school visits over the past few years to talk about the legal profession. Together with 2007 graduate and LFA founder Salima Samnani, she wanted the students to realize that UVic Law was open to anyone willing to work hard to get there, regardless of any perceived obstacles.
“The goal initially was to provide support for students who wanted to apply to law school but didn’t even know where to begin,” explains Rahman. “Even getting them at the undergrad level is maybe too late for some of these kids, because they’ve already closed themselves off to the idea of attending law school.”
LFA wants to change all that. This year, the added attraction of a mock trial engaged the students’ imaginations and made the free program particularly memorable.
“They loved it. One girl definitely wants to go to law school,” Rahman says. “This was a way for her to figure out what law is all about.”
Over the course of a week, the teens met members of the local legal community, took a tour of the downtown courthouse and learned how a trial is conducted. The highlight of the week was arguing Jack Sparrow’s thievery case before a real provincial judge in the Maritime Museum of BC’s Victorian-era courtroom. The Honourable Judge Evan Blake and UVic Law Professor Hamar Foster explained the legal principles involved and took the time to answer all of the participants’ questions.
The mock pirate trial was designed to show how the law works, but the judge and the organizers also made sure the students enjoyed the experience. Although they were a little nervous during their opening arguments, they soon settled down to cross-examine witnesses, introduce evidence—and have a lot of fun.
Rahman is confident that the LFA mentoring program will continue next year. The most important aspect of the program for her was seeing the students’ passion for learning new skills and listening to them talk about their dreams.