Friday, February 3, 2012

Staff Profile: Johanna Macdonald

Street Youth Legal Services lawyer Johanna MacDonald in her office at JFCY
Johanna Macdonald is one six lawyers working for the JFCY at the Toronto office. She has always been interested in law and completed her undergraduate degree at Carlton University in Ottawa. On behalf of the JFCY blog I asked her the following questions:

Why the interest in Youth?
While studying Criminology, Johanna read many statistics about the high peak of criminal behaviour for young men. She also learned that the likelihood of someone committing a crime can be predicted as early as age four. She has always thought the best way to reduce crime is to prevent it, and by providing support at an early age. At Carlton, Johanna volunteered with a Rowing programme for at-risk youth. From this she realized the necessity for increased support for older youth, such as teenagers and those in their twenties.

So what do you do as a Street Youth Lawyer?
Johanna represents high-risk and homeless youth between the ages of sixteen and twenty four. She visits shelters to see if there are youth in need of legal advice or to give seminars about employment rights, police interactions, and family law. Johanna loves being a youth lawyer because she deals with many areas of law such as, immigration, housing, and criminal, to name a few.

What Issues are Street Youth faced with today?
Johanna acknowledges that at-risk and homeless youth are heavily stigmatized and often have a negative view of the law. She says this is often because the primary interaction these youth have is with law enforcement. Johanna is working hard to educate youth on the opportunities that the law can provide them, for example in cases involving sole custody of a child or applications for compensation.

Should the law be reformed?
Johanna says the law does provide support to youth, but that there is still much to improve. In her opinion the law often treats at-risk and homeless youth as simply an “emergency problem”.  She thinks youth need better continued support, especially because there is such a high population of homeless youth who have been Crown Wards or have left child welfare. She said that the while the average youth receives financial support from parents or guardians up to age twenty seven, the maximum age a Crown Ward can receive financial support to is age twenty one. She would like to see the law changed so that the eligibility for financial support to Wards of the Crown is extended to age twenty four.

What’s next for Johanna?
On February 29th she is hosting a meeting at Queen West Community Health Centre with police and law enforcers about better ways to effectively interact with Youth.  She hinted that the name may involve ‘Hot Shot’, which is a Police term for a situation that demands all officers drop what they are doing and immediately head to the scene of the crime! Keep reading the blog for updates on the great work Johanna and the rest of the JFCY lawyers are doing for Youth.

PLE Team Member and Volunteer Danielle Skuy interviewed Johanna and wrote this post.  

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