Friday, March 30, 2012

"Vitamin R"

On a Thursday afternoon, two friends, Alex and Mike, headed down to their school cafeteria to break for lunch before their next class. After buying their lunches, they looked for a place to sit down. The cafeteria was quite full that day, and so there were few places for them to eat their lunches. Since the weather was nice outside, they decided to have lunch on the steps outside of their high school.

As they sat down, another student walked towards them. Neither Alex nor Mike had seen the student before, though they could tell by his uniform that he belonged to their school. The student took a seat next to them and whispered, "Hey, you guys want to have some fun today?" Alex and Mike looked at each other for a moment and curiously shrugged their shoulders. "We might," Alex said. "Why, what's your deal?"

The student took out a small bag from his pocket. Inside were five blue capsules. In a quiet voice he explained what was in the bag. "These are Ritalin pills. Me and my friends call them Vitamin R," he said. "When you take a few of these, it's like you're a genius. You'll feel super focused, like you can tackle anything."

Mike responded, "I've never heard of these before.  Where'd you get them?" The student paused for a second before answering the question. "I know a guy whose older brother had ADHD.  He used to take the pills to help him concentrate, but he went away to university.  My friend tells me that there are a bunch of these pills left over in his house now. So, he gives some to me too. Would you guys be interested in buying some from me or what?"

Looking uncertain, Alex asked, "But what if we get caught with these things? We'd probably get suspended or something?" The student responded, "No way man, prescription drugs aren't as bad as weed or alcohol. There really isn't much to worry about." Mike then asked, "You're certain?" The student confidently answered, "Yes."

Mike and Alex then handed the student some money in exchange for the pills.

Is it illegal to buy prescription drugs outside a pharmacy, or to use them for non-prescription reasons?
You need a prescription to buy prescription drugs (certain kinds of medication) for a few reasons.  Prescription drugs usually contain chemical ingredients that can be dangerous if taken in the wrong amount or in the wrong combinations.  One of the roles of a pharmacist is to help you understand how to take a drug correctly – for example, whether you need to eat food at the same time you take a pill, or whether two different drugs will work incorrectly if taken together, even though they would both work well on their own.  Getting a prescription filled at a pharmacy helps to make sure you have all the right information before you start taking a drug, so that it doesn’t hurt your body.  Another reason that you need a prescription for medication is that medications can be harmful in large quantities.  Prescriptions help make sure only people who need certain drugs are getting them.  Similarly, some drugs can be addictive and addiction can damage people’s lives and relationships.  Since prescriptions control access to drugs, they are one way of preventing addiction to drugs that might be helpful for a medical treatment but addictive if not used correctly.
If you have a prescription for a drug, it is legal for you to “possess” (have) that drug.  If you don’t have a prescription, and you buy the drug from someone other than a pharmacy, then it may be illegal for you to have the drug.  All drugs fall within a Canadian criminal law called the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act  (CDSA), and possession of them can be a crime.  The Act has five big sections called “schedules,” and each one contains lists of different kinds of drugs.  If you have a drug that is in Schedule I, II, or III, and you don't have a prescription for it, you are committing a criminal offence called "possession."  Selling these drugs illegally is called "trafficking."  Buying prescription drugs in these categories outside a pharmacy is no different than buying other kinds of illegal drugs, like cocaine or marijuana – you can still get in trouble with the law.
Ritalin, the drug sold to Mike and Alex, has an active ingredient called methylphenidate, which is listed under Schedule III of the CDSA.  This means that Mike and Alex are in illegal possession of the drug. And, it means that the other student is illegally trafficking the drug.
The bottom line: Buying, selling, and possessing prescription drugs without a prescription is a criminal offence, and can lead to negative consequences.  Depending on which prescription drug is involved, it can even be more serious than other illegal drugs.
This blog post was written by PLE Team Member and JFCY Volunteer Stefan Venier.  Legal information by JFCY.
If you are a youth in Ontario facing criminal drug charges or have legal questions about drug charges, please contact a lawyer at JFCY at 416-920-1633, or toll-free at 1-866-999-5329.  You can also read our Youth Guide to Criminal Justice for more information about going to criminal court as a young person.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Day of Pink is April 11- nearly here!

We've all been witness to it before, whether in school, at the workplace or in our communities.  Bullying has either been directed towards us, surrounded us, or we ourselves may have engaged in bullying behaviour before. Bullying can include verbal harassment, physical assault or emotional abuse.  It can be based on race, religion, gender, or sexuality - or simply a difference in power between two people. There have been many attempts in recent years to bring more awareness to bullying on every level and discuss how we can bring it to an end.  One of these initiatives is the International Day of Pink, a phenomenon started by two teenage boys in Nova Scotia.

The International Day of Pink takes place every year on the second Wednesday of April, a day where national and international communities can celebrate diversity and raise awareness for the LGBT community and combat all forms of bullying. This year, on April 11th, 2012 Day of Pink encourages people to wear the colour pink to remind communities that coming together to support their peers can make a difference.

An important question to answer is: How did Day of Pink begin? In 2007, a Grade 9 boy at Central Kings Rural High school in Cambridge, Nova Scotia wore a pink polo shirt to school. He was mocked and harassed by bullies. He was physically threatened and called a homosexual for his choice of clothing. After hearing that a fellow schoolmate had been bullied, two Grade 12 students decided to take action. David Shepherd and Travis Price went to a local discount store and purchased 50 pink shirts to hand out and have other students wear the next day. They e-mailed friends to gain support for the anti-bullying cause that they, at the time, called 'sea of pink.'

The next day, hundreds of students came to school in pink.  Not a sound from the Grade 9 student's bullies was heard, which Shepherd says just goes to show what a little activism will do. "If you can get more people against them… to show that we're not going to put up with it and support each other, then they're not as big as a group as they think are," he says.

So why participate in Day of Pink? If you have ever experienced or witnessed discrimination or bullying of any kind, whether it be based on differences in race, religion, economic/social position, politics, or sexual orientation, you can participate in Day of Pink to celebrate diversity, encourage people to be open minded, accept differences, and knock down the barriers created by discrimination and bullying.

JFCY learned about the Day of Pink through the official Day of Pink website, where you can find out how to get involved yourself. If you think you could be the lead on the Day of Pink in your school, organization or community you can become an official Day of Pink Ambassador. Day of Pink Ambassadors are regional volunteers who act to spread the word about the Day of Pink, distribute resources and support local initiatives. Send an email to: for more information and on how you can create activities in your community in support of Day of Pink!  You can also check out the official Day of Pink website to learn more.

JFCY's Public Legal Education (PLE) Team is planning to participate in the Day of Pink. Find us at Dundas Square from 3:30pm-5:30pm on April 11.  Team volunteers will be chatting with the public about our work, as well as handing out candy and bullying resources.  And, of course, we will be wearing pink!  So join us on April 11 at Yonge and Dundas in Toronto. 

Thanks to PLE Team members and JFCY volunteers for this post.  Inez Leutenegger wrote the text of the post, and Lucas Treleaven created the comic. Inez is a paralegal student and Lucas is in grade 11 at Monarch Park Secondary School. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

What does it mean to be charged with a crime?

In order for you to be charged with a crime in Canada, that behaviour has to be prohibited by a law. You can find most of the offences that young people are charged with in the Criminal Code, or in a related statute (for instance, if it is a drug offence, you might find it in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act).

Every crime has two elements—a prohibited act (or actus reus) and a criminal fault (or mens rea).

Actus Reus

The Actus Reus is pretty basic—the Criminal Code states that it is illegal to do a certain action, like steal another person’s things, or to fail to do a certain action, like provide the things your children need to live. The words that are used in the provision are really important to understanding what exactly is considered to be a crime.

For instance, when you think about robbery, you might think about a holdup of a convenience store. And that would definitely be a robbery. But the wording of the provision in the Criminal Code that prohibits robbery includes a lot more than that. For instance, under s. 343(C) of the Criminal Code, robbery also includes assaulting someone with the intent to steal from him or her. This means that you can be guilty of robbery even if you don’t actually steal anything, as long as you intend to steal something when you assault someone. And the Criminal Code defines assault broadly. It includes applying force in order to harm someone without their consent. It also includes making threats to apply force to someone, and impeding someone or begging while openly carrying a weapon. So you could be convicted of a robbery for making threats to harm someone, or begging or impeding someone while openly carrying a weapon (the prohibited action), as long as you have the intent to steal.

Mens Rea

This raises the second element of a criminal offence—the criminal fault, or mens rea. Sometimes, people call this the "guilty mind." The intent to threaten/hit and steal is the mens rea for robbery. The idea of the mens rea is that someone should not be found guilty of a crime if they don’t have the required level of fault. So, in the robbery example, you could not be convicted of robbery if you impeded someone while openly carrying a knife, when you did not also have the intent to steal. (But you could probably be convicted of assault).

Different crimes in the Criminal Code have different levels of fault associated with them. You might find them in the section—look for words like “intent,” “knowingly,” “for the purpose of”, “recklessly” or “negligently” for clues. Other times, however, the Court has decided the level of fault associated with a given crime while it is hearing a case.

So, when the Crown attorney (the government lawyer) goes to Court to prove someone committed a crime, they have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person both committed the act and that they had the guilty intent. If they can’t prove both the act or the required level of intent, that person cannot be convicted or found guilty of that crime.

Want to understand the actus reus (prohibited action) and the mens rea (criminal intent) for other criminal offences?  You can look up the definition of an offence in the Criminal Code of Canada.

This post was written by Krista Nerland, a PLE Team Member and JFCY volunteer.  Krista is a first year law student at the University of Toronto. Legal info was reviewed by JFCY.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Applying for social assistance at ages 16 and 17

Christine is 16 years old. She lives with her mother in Toronto and her father lives in Vancouver with his family.  Christine's mother suffers from an alcohol addiction, and usually when she is drunk, she gives Christine physical punishment. Also, Christine's mother is abusing Christine emotionally, talking to her with coarse language and calling her offensive names.  In addition, although Christine’s mother has a job she works at twice a week, she spends her low wage in alcohol and rarely spends it on food. Usually, there is nothing to eat at home.  Christine has tried to talk with her father about living with him, but he always tells Christine that she can not live with him because he has his own family and there is not enough space in his house for her.  Christine attends school full time and she wants to live alone, because she feels unsafe at home. But she has no income to support her financial needs.
Christine does not know how to get financial support.
Ontario Works (OW) is a provincial agency run through municipalities that provides social assistance, including financial benefits and help finding employment.  If you are 16 or 17 years old and you have left home, you can get financial assistance (money) from OW under special circumstances, but if you are under 16 years old and you are not a single parent, you usually cannot get social assistance on your own.
If you want to get social assistance, an Ontario Works worker will usually check that your parents will not let you live with them at home or that it is harmful for you to live there. Also, the Ontario Works worker will want to be sure that your parents will not support you in your financial needs.  In addition, you will need to show that you are a full-time student in high school or another training program.
Christine meets all of these requirements.  So, if Christine needs money to live alone, she might be able to get social assistance (money) from the Ontario Works program.
What kind of assistance will Christine get?
If Christine qualifies for assistance, she will get a monthly allowance. The amount Christine will get can help her to pay for basic expenses such as rent, food and clothing.  She can also get assistance to buy prescription drugs.
Also, Christine might be able to get community maintenance benefits to help her pay the cost of setting up a new place to live (for example, money for a last month's rent deposit).
How Does Christine Apply?
If Christine wants to receive social assistance, she needs to complete an application and to have an interview with an OW worker who will ask Christine for information to show that she qualifies for assistance.  This will include talking about the things discussed above, like finding out more about why Christine isn’t living with a parent.  When Christine goes to the Ontario Works office, she will have to have a number of documents with her.  Christine can show evidence of her circumstances by getting a letter from her guidance counselor, or another professional (like a social worker) who is familiar with her situation.
Christine has the right to apply to Ontario Works for social assistance.  That means that she can apply even if someone tells her she is ineligible when she goes to apply.  If she is turned down, she should ask for the decision in writing, so that she can try to have the decision reviewed by someone else in the OW office. This is called a "request for internal review". If Christine is turned down, it will be helpful for her to talk to a lawyer, who can help her with the internal review request.  It is important for Christine to act quickly if she is turned down, as there are short deadlines for a review or an appeal (which is like a review of a review).
This information only applies to someone who is 16 or 17 years old – if you are 18, different rules apply, even if you are still a full time student.
To learn more about leaving home, check out this JFCY pamphlet
To learn more about social assistance, including Ontario Works, check out CLEO’s guide to social assistance.  Or, check out this government of Ontario website.
If you are 16 or 17 and living on your own in Ontario, and you are having trouble applying for or receiving OW, you can contact a JFCY lawyer.  Call JFCY at 416-920-1633, or toll-free from outside the GTA at 1-866-999-5329. 
Thanks to Lina Maria Sanchez, a PLE Team Member and JFCY volunteer, for writing this post. Lina Maria was a lawyer in Columbia before moving to Canada.  Legal information was reviewed by JFCY.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

JFCY is hiring!

JFCY is seeking to hire two lawyers.

We are looking for a Staff Lawyer to begin soon.  Application deadline is March 26, 2012.  View the job posting here.

We are also looking for an Intake Lawyer to begin in July.  Application deadline is April 16, 2012. View the job posting here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Some Comments About the Age of Consent

 The following is an opinion piece by JFCY volunteer and PLE Team Member Marsha Rampersaud.  Marsha is a criminology student at York University.  The opinions in the piece are hers, not those of JFCY.  To learn more about the current law relating to age of consent, see this past blog post and our YouTube video.

After watching the JFCY's  YouTube video on the “AGE OF CONSENT” I was interested to learn more about this law.  I researched the history of the law and the reasons behind the last set of amendments in 2008.  What I found in my research was both surprising and informative. 

‘Age of Consent’ describes the age when a person can participate in a particular activity (generally sexual activity) legally.  What this means is that if someone is below the age of consent for sexual activity, it doesn’t matter (in the eyes of the law) whether they have participated willingly or unwillingly in the sexual activity, because they are considered to lack the capacity to consent.  This has legal consequences for a young person’s sexual partner.  If one partner is below the age of consent, the other partner can be held criminally responsible for participating in sexual activity.  Age becomes the standard to determine criminal responsibility, regardless of whether the relationship was actually consensual.   

Age of consent law has changed in recent years.  In June 2006, Bill C-22 proposed changes to the age of consent law.  Bill C-22 did not become law, but similar changes were proposed in Bill C-2, an omnibus bill that followed Bill C-22.  It was given royal assent in February 2008, which means that the changes it proposed are now part of the Criminal Code of Canada.  

Offences relating to sexual activity engaged in by young people date back to the late 1800s in Canada.  The definition of these crimes has been revised over the years, as society’s expectations for men and women have changed.  One part of Bill C-2 changed the age of consent law in section 150.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which pertains to sexual offences.  The reason behind the bill, as stated by Parliament is to better protect youth against sexual exploitation by adult predators.

Bill C-2 was significant for a number of reasons: in describing the changes to the law, the government often referred to age of protection, instead of age of consent.  Why is this important?  While consent means to give permission, which leaves power in the hands of youth, protection means to keep someone safe.  This takes the power out of the hands of youth and puts it into the hands of law enforcers (police, government etc.).  In my opinion, the result is that young people who fall within the scope of the age of protection are denied a voice regarding their sexuality.

For a number of offences relating to sexual activity by young people, the bill effectively raised the age of consent from 14 to 16.  There are some exceptions: There isa "close-in-age" exemption in the bill, which allowed 14- and 15-year olds to legally consent to sexual activity with someone who was less than 5 years older than them, and 12- and 13- year-olds to consent to sexual activity with someone less than two years older. (For more on that, watch JFCY's YouTube video explaining these exceptions.)

Despite public protest, the bill failed to address the question of lowering the age of consent to anal intercourse, which remains at 18.  Keeping the age of consent for anal intercourse at 18 has a negative impact on gay, bisexual and queer male teenagers specifically, since the age to consent to all other forms of sexual activity remains at 16.  However, in Ontario, the Court of Appeal has found that this distinction is unconstitutional, which means that even though the law about age of consent for anal intercourse still exists, people should not be charged with it in Ontario.  Many other provinces have similar rulings, but the Canadian government still has not repealed the law, which means it is effective in provinces that don’t have these kinds of court rulings.  It also means that anyone who does not know about the court rulings, and just looks at the Criminal Code to find out about the crime, will not know that the law does not apply in Ontario. It could have a negative effect on the dignity and self-esteem of gay, bisexual and queer teenagers. Knowing all this, I can’t help but ask the question, who does this law actually protect?  Or, more appropriately, who does this law target

In my opinion, this shift in the legislation represents a paternalistic conceptualization of childhood and sexuality.  It presumes that the state knows what is best when it comes to a young person’s sexual decisions.  But who can know more about their sexuality than the youth themselves?

Under Bill C-2, people under the age of 18 are viewed as unable to make certain decisions about sexual activity by themselves.  This does not take into account the multitude of developmental stages that exist between ages 0 – 17.  The current legal conception collapses and combines infancy, toddlers, adolescence, pre-pubescence and pubescence, etc into one discreet category.  This view denies the agency of the youth.

I believe that age of consent law should recognize and celebrate a mature young person’s ability to make decisions.  Education is important so that young people can make informed decisions of when to give consent and when to withhold consent. If it were up to me, I would endorse a law that actually empowers youth through the promotion of safer sex and education and allows youth to make informed decisions, leaving the law free to target actual perpetrators.

Thanks to JFCY Volunteer and PLE Team member Marsha Rampersaud for this opinion piece, which represents her personal views on the laws about age of consent. It does not represent the views of JFCY as a whole. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Staff profile: Andrea Luey

By Diana Rozo, JFCY PLE Team Member

Andrea Luey has worked as a lawyer at JFCY since 2009. She works with clients and also runs the Public Legal Education Team.

Andrea during the JFCY PLE Team filming of a legal rights video

Before she worked at JFCY, she worked for Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services in Toronto and Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay. Andrea volunteers regularly at The 519 Church Street Community Centre, where she coordinates the free Legal Advice and Referral Clinic, geared towards assisting low-income queer and trans people with legal issues. What captivated her about being a lawyer was the ability to help people, while having an intellectually stimulating career. Nevertheless, before making her decision she had thought about different careers such as counselling and construction work. However, if she were to have a second career she would run a bed and breakfast which offers a fitness facility. 

Andrea at the 2011 JFCY AGM
Why does Andrea love her job at JFCY? She loves her job at JFCY because all of her clients are youth.  Even though fighting for youth rights may be challenging at times-it is also extremely rewarding. When Andrea is not in the court room or at her desk, she loves to spend time with her partner, go to the gym and hang out with friends after a hectic day at work. Her favourite TV shows at the moment are Parks and Recreation, The Good Wife, Parenthood, and of course... Seinfeld.  When asked what advice she would give to people considering a career in law, Andrea's advice is to be prepared to work hard, but remember not to doubt your own abilities!

This Profile was written by Diana Rozo, a volunteer member of JFCY's PLE Team.  Diana is a student at York University. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Responses to Bullying?

This is an opinion piece by JFCY volunteer Bianca Thomas.  It does not reflect the opinion or position of JFCY as a whole.

Currently, Canadian criminal law, as enshrined in the Criminal Code of Canada, does not include an offence for bullying. While certain types of bullying behaviour, such as harassment and uttering threats, can result in criminal charges, perhaps this is not enough of an effective control on bullying. Given the prevalence of bullying nowadays, some people suggest that it is time for Canada to create an offence for bullying specifically.

This past week, the Globe and Mail released an article saying that the majority of Canadians believe that bullying should be criminalized. According to an Angus Reid online survey, 65% of Canadians believe that bullying should be made a criminal offence, even if no physical violence is involved. Meanwhile, a majority of Canadians think that bullying is a pressing problem in middle school and high school (94%) and elementary school (88%). 

The Ontario government seems to be picking up on public sentiment regarding the issue as it has proposed the Accepting Schools Act. The Act provides for consequences for bullying including suspension pending expulsion, policies on bullying prevention and intervention, and school progress reports. 

One Opinion

While the Act might surely be a step in the right direction, perhaps it is not enough. There remains the problem of cyber-bullying, which according to one bullied student, is “really hard to fight…because you can’t put a face to that person.” Some believe that the best solution would be to criminalize bullying, as it could help discourage people from taking part in bullying behaviour, for fear of criminal penalty.

A Different Opinion

On the other hand, though, criminalizing bullying may be an overly drastic step.  If imprisonment is a potential punishment for bullying, this could lead to a rise in youth imprisonment rates. In any case, it would increase the number of youth involved in the criminal justice system.  This could increase chances of re-offending, instead of allowing youth to fix their behaviour and rehabilitate themselves. Many people would argue that there are better ways to address bullying than punishing it as a crime.  Causing children and youths to enter the criminal justice system at such a young age may already prejudice them early on in life. Such a thing is to be avoided at all costs.

What are your thoughts? Do you think bullying should be made a criminal offence? What are some other ways to address and prevent bullying?

Bianca Thomas, PLE Team member and JFCY volunteer, wrote this blog post. She is a law student at the University of Toronto.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Toronto Star: Ontario should help foster kids until they turn 25

An editorial was published in the Toronto Star earlier this week about extending support for youth in the care of Children's Aid Societies to age 25.  Youth "aging out" of care is an important issue, because, at 18 or 21, many young people are not prepared or able to live independently - in fact, Canadian youth and young adults today are living with their parents longer than ever before.  However, young people in Ontario leave care at 18 or 21, and they are no longer able to receive support from Children's Aid after that point.  The editorial argues that support should be extended, and that there are good financial reasons to do so: "For every $1 the province of Ontario spends supporting its youth by extending supports to age 25, we estimate that governments could save or earn an estimated $1.36 over the working lifetime of that person."

The article is informative and worth a read - it draws on many of the same issues that JFCY referred to in its submissions to the Youth Leaving Care hearings in Ontario earlier this year.