Monday, July 30, 2012

Teenage drinking and driving

Jessica  is 17 years old. She doesn't own a car, but she's been saving up money from her part time job to eventually purchase her own car in the near future. In the meantime, Jessica drives around her mother's car whenever she needs to.  Jessica is the only one among her friends who has a driver's licence, so her friends often depend on her to give them a ride.

One night there was a dance taking place at her school, and all the students were planning to attend.   Jessica was very excited for this dance because her exams were finally all over.  She was looking forward to partying and celebrating with her classmates. Many of Jessica’s friends were planning on getting wasted at the dance and she ensured them that she'd remain a designated driver for them. Although Jessica and her friends were below Ontario’s legal drinking age, they still planned to drink.

Jessica ended up drinking along with her friends during the party. She knew how dangerous it is to drink irresponsibly, but she continued to drink through the party along with her friends, even though she knew that she was supposed to drive everyone home safely.

Although Jessica didn't drink as much as her friends she still had a high amount of alcohol in her system , enough to possibly impair her driving ability.  Jessica has heard of the effects of drinking and driving countless times and she knows that drinking and driving can lead to accidents that claim lives.  She knows that driving home would put many innocent lives, including those of her friends, at risk.

Why does drinking and driving lead to accidents?

When a person drinks alcohol, it affects their ability to see and think about things the way that they normally do.  Ability to judge distances, to respond quickly to changes on the road, and to see clearly can all be affected.  All this means that accidents are more likely to happen when someone drinks and drives.

The amount of alcohol in a person’s body is measured by how much alcohol is in their blood.  This is called blood alcohol concentration, or BAC.  Your BAC is affected by factors like how much you drink, how fast you drink, your gender, your body weight, and how much food is in your stomach.  Because these factors change based on the individual person, it is very hard to know how much drinking will lead to impairment of your driving abilities.  It’s also very hard to assess your own BAC or impairment.  Overall, a higher BAC means that the alcohol you’ve drunk will have a greater impact on your driving performance.

What are the consequences of drinking and driving?

Drinking and driving leads to accidents, including death and injury.  It accounts for almost 25% of car accident deaths in Ontario.  However, it can also lead to charges being laid against the driver, fines and licence suspensions, and the impoundment of a vehicle.

In Ontario, if you are 21 and under, there is a zero blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rule while driving.  This means that regardless of which kind of licence you have (G, G1, G2), if you are caught with any alcohol in your blood, you will receive an immediate 24-hour roadside driver licence suspension.  You will likely then be charged with impaired driving.  If you are convicted of the charge, you can be fined between $60 and $500, and your licence can be suspended for 30 days.  If you are a young driver with a G1 or G2 licence, you can face even stricter consequences, including being returned to the start of the Graduated Licencing System.  For example, this means that if Jessica has her G2 and is caught drinking, she may lose her G2 licence (which allows her to drive her friends unaccompanied by an adult) and be returned to the start of the licensing process.

Higher BACs (between 0.05-0.08, and above 0.08) lead to even more severe consequences.

What are Jessica’s other options?

Jessica chose to drink even though she had agreed to be the designated driver.  Now  she has another decision to make: drive home or find alternative options.  If Jessica chooses to drive home, she risks the safety of herself, her friends, and others on the road.  She also risks being caught driving while impaired, either because of an accident or because she is stopped by a police officer, which could have a serious impact on her ability to drive.  If she drives home drunk, she will also have to consider what will happen if her mother finds out about what she has done.

Instead of driving home, Jessica can find out whether one of her friends has a parent or sober friend who would be willing to pick them up.  Jessica can pick up the car from school in the morning.  If one of her friends lives nearby, everyone might be able to stay there for the night.  Or, Jessica and her friends can share a cab – 1-888-TAXIGUY is a toll-free number which is available in 250 towns and cities across Ontario.  It connects callers directly to a partner taxicab in their city.  All of these are good options for Jessica and her friends.

JFCY has posted about drinking and driving in the past - check out these past posts for more information: July 2012 ; September 2011

The scenario for this post was written by Deqa Abdi, a volunteer member of the JFCY PLE Team. The legal info was written by JFCY volunteer Leora Jackson, a UofT law student.  Reviewed by JFCY. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can young people get married?


Mark is a seventeen-year old high school student who has just finished grade 11.  He loves soccer, playing the guitar and going to parties with his friends. He is the vice-president on his school’s student council and is a member of the swim team.  He has been dating his boyfriend, Nathan, since the end of 10th grade and they are both thinking of getting married. They have a great relationship and Mark cannot see himself being with anyone else but Nathan.

Mark’s home life has been difficult lately, as his father left the family several years ago and has not been in contact with them since he has left.  His mother has legal custody.  His mother has had to work two jobs and spends most of her free time with her boyfriend, John. Mark’s sister Kelly is away at university in Vancouver and he rarely sees her. Mark feels as though Nathan is the only constant, loving person in his life and thinks that marriage would solidify the loving relationship he has with his boyfriend.

Can Mark get married to his boyfriend Nathan? If he is able to marry Nathan, what would their rights be as a same-sex marriage couple in Canada?

Marriage and Age

Regardless of how old you are, marriage is a big commitment and whether to get married is an important decision.

In Ontario, the Marriage Act is the law that contains rules about who and how people can get married.  It says that any person who is “of the age of majority” can get married – in Ontario, that means being 18 or older.  People who are 16 or 17 can still get married, but they must have written permission from both of their parents.  If a young person’s parents live apart, or there is only one living parent, then only the parent who has legal custody needs to give written permission.  Having legal custody of a child means having the right to make important decisions for the child, about things like education and health care.

If Mark and Nathan decided they wanted to get married, Mark would have to get written permission from his mom.  He would not need to ask his dad for permission, because Mark’s mom has custody.  If Mark’s mom did not give her permission, Mark could apply to the court to see if a Judge will make an court order allowing him to get married even without his mom's permission.

Marriage and Sex/Gender

If Mark and Nathan wait until they are both 18, they can get married without needing parental permission.  In Canada, both same-sex and opposite sex couples can marry each other.  While the legal rights that come with marriage are different depending on the province, all married couples in a province – regardless of sex/gender – receive the same rights.   Many of these rights are related to property.  They have to do with things like paying income tax, or splitting assets (property and money) if a married couple divorces.

History of Same-Sex Marriage in Canada

It hasn’t always been possible for two people who are the same sex/gender to get married in Canada.  In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same-sex couples should have the same financial and legal benefits that married couples should have – but that didn’t mean that same-sex marriage itself was legal.  At that time, marriages were only performed between a man and a woman in Canada.

But Canada has a law called the Charter of Rights andFreedoms, which is part of the Canadian Constitution.  This means that the Charter takes priority over other laws that are not in the Constitution, including laws about marriage.  The Charter says that every person in Canada should receive equal benefit and protection under the law – regardless of certain personal characteristics (like sexual orientation).

In 2002, seven Ontario couples challenged the limits placed on marriage in Ontario based on the Charter, and the court ruled that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was a violation of the Charter.  In 2003, Ontario’s Court of Appeal confirmed that ruling.  From that point on, Ontario began allowing same-sex couples to marry.  (In 2004, the laws about divorce were also changed, so that same-sex married couples could get divorced.)  Within a couple of years, court challenges in most other provinces led to same-sex marriage in those provinces, too.  In 2005, the Canadian government passed the Civil Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a legal union between two people.

PHOTOS: Pride Parade in Toronto
Newlyweds: these men got married during Toronto's 2012 Pride parade
Photo from 

Scenario was written by PLE Team volunteer Inez Leutennger, who is a paralegal student.  Legal info was written by JFCY volunteer Leora Jackson, a law student at U of T.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Want to Volunteer at JFCY?

JFCY is accepting applications to volunteer on our committees.  The next deadline is September 21, 2012.

**If you are interested, please fill out the Volunteer Application Form and Membership Application Form and send to Andrea at

We appreciate all interest in volunteering for JFCY.  Unfortunately, there are limited spaces on our committees and we are not able to accept all applicants. 

Here is a list of the different committees:  

Public Legal Education Team: The group’s mandate is to create communications (you tube movies, pamphlets, newsletters, facebook, twitter, etc…) for young people to advise and inform them regarding youth-based legal rights. The Committee decides which issues are relevant, thinks of ways to convey the messages most effectively and then creates publications accordingly. We meet once per month and members complete projects on their own time. The group is comprised of high school students, post-secondary students, law students and community members. All committed volunteers are welcome. (For more on this Team, click here.)

Youth Action Committee (YAC): YAC is a group made up of youth (aged 13 - 17) from diverse backgrounds who bring their unique perspectives to address legal issues facing youth today.  We believe that youth have a right to be recognized as individuals under the law and to have their voices heard. YAC reaches out to the community and informs youth that they have legal rights and tries to connect them to the useful resources that are available. YAC is open to youth under age 18 only. This year, YAC will be run as part of the Public Legal Education (PLE) Team, acting as its youth voice. The YAC members of the PLE Team will have an important and unique role on the PLE Team. YAC is open to youth under age 18 only.

Fundraising Committee: aims to raise funds in a variety of ways to support the organization’s important work. All committed volunteers are welcome to apply.

Administrative Support: Volunteers assist Office Manager and support staff with various tasks in the office.

Policy Positions Committee: This Committee monitors and responds to political and legal issues of a youth justice nature that affect our clients broadly.  This Committee welcomes qualified scholars and professionals from various disciplines. It meets once a month. Volunteers undertake to do research, write materials, etc under the direction of lawyers from the clinic. This Committee has limited Membership; unfortunately not all interested people will be able to participate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Quebec Student Protest Law: Is it really necessary?

This is an opinion piece written by JFCY PLE Team volunteer, Cemone Morlese. It does not reflect the ideas or opinions of JFCY as a whole.


The student protest in Quebec started months ago over government legislation raising tuition fees for university students. Daily gatherings of thousands caught international attention, but a new law attempting to control these gatherings turned this protest over tuition into a fight over the constitutional rights of Canadian citizens.

Bill 78 was passed into law on May 18, 2012 by the Quebec government in order to control the protests. The controversy stems from one main issue. The law has strict guidelines on where and how many people can protest at any given time. It states that the police must be informed with a detailed itinerary of any public demonstrations involving more than 50 people at least eight hours in advance. Also, police have the right to order a protest to be moved to another location.

Many believe this is a clear violation of our fundamental rights and freedoms as Canadians to express ourselves and to protest peacefully. Supporters of the bill argue that implementing it was necessary due to the increasing violence and property damage that was taking place during the strike. Some students who were still trying to attend school were being either verbally harassed or physically blocked from entering by protesters. This bill makes those actions an offence, punishable with a fine.

Photo source: 

Cemone’s Opinion

I think this law was not needed in order to maintain the safety of the public. Yes, acts of violence were being committed by some protesters, but clearly this small minority was involved in the movement only to cause trouble. They are committing offences and should be punished; however all the protesters should not have to suffer by being forced to abide to this unnecessary law.

The restrictions this law puts in place are unrealistic in today’s society. With the speed of the media and technology, organizing rallies or protests can quickly grow beyond the estimated number of people. This now becomes a crime with Bill 78 if the number is over 50, even if you only expected 20.

The police can utilize the same technology used to organize these events (Facebook, Twitter) to find about them and decide whether or not they need to send personnel to ensure the events stays under control. One of the main reasons for the protest is to draw attention from the public to what is going on, so it won’t be a secret when and where any protests are taking place and the police will be able to prepare for them.

The only good points that come from this law are that students who still want to attend school will not be intimidated or physically stopped from doing so. Other than that, I believe this law is simply diverting attention away from the real issue: the inability of both sides to come to an agreement about the tuition hike.

On June 27, an attempt by Quebec students to get an emergency injunction suspending six sections of the law was rejected by the Quebec Supreme Court. A full court challenge is expected to be heard later this summer or fall. 

To view Bill 78 click here.

For more information, check out these articles about the Quebec student strike:

This opinion piece was written by Cemone Morlese, a student at York U and a volunteer member JFCY's PLE Team.  It does not reflect the opinions or ideas of JFCY as a whole. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Attention newcomer female youth in Toronto

YWCA Toronto | A Turning Point For Women | United Way

YWCA JUMP offers great programming, resources and training to newcomer youth in the Scarborough and Etobicoke areas, including a Youth Leadership Certificate Program.

Check out the Scarborough July calender here and the Etobicoke July calender here.

(JFCY is not involved with the YWCA but is happy to advertise its great activities.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Skipping school: consequences?

It was a warm Friday afternoon in June, and all of the students at St. Charles elementary school headed to the playground for their second recess of the day.

"Ah, it's so nice outside," exclaimed Tom, an eighth-grader at the school. He and his friend, David, were the first ones out the door.

"Too bad we're stuck at school." David responded. "It would be a perfect day to go to the Water Park at Sunny Side Bay."

Lakeside Beach Lounge Pool
Photo from Ontario Place website: 
Tom turned to David with an excited look on his face. "Hey, what if we just took the day off from school? We can go on all the water slides we want! What do you say?"

"Take the day mean...skip school?" David asked.

"Yea, it would be amazing!" Tom responded. "We'd have an early start to the weekend. Besides, I don't think our teacher would even mind. It's the second last Friday before school ends. She knows that none of us really want to be here."

David looked uncertain. He was worried about the consequences of skipping school. After pausing for a few seconds, he finally spoke, "Okay, fine let's do it. I really hope we don't get in serious trouble for this."

"We won't," Tom remarked. "Everything will be just fine, trust me."

The two boys quickly hopped the fence that surrounded their school yard. They headed towards a bus stop at the end of the street.

What are the legal consequences for skipping school?

The Education Act is the Ontario law that covers education issues, including attendance.  It requires everyone over the age of six to attend school until they graduate or reach age 18.  This doesn’t just mean registering in school – it means actually going, every single day that school is in session!

What if you are sick? Or you have a religious holiday? Or your parents have decided to home school you?  Are you breaking the law?  The answer is no.  You can be excused from attendance at school for any of those reasons, and you are also excused from attendance at school if you are suspended or expelled.

But aside from exceptions like these, you are required to go to school every day.  If David and Tom don’t go to school, they are breaking the law in Ontario.  The school attendance counselor will contact their parents or guardians to let them know that David and Tom weren’t at school that day.  The Education Act makes it a parent or guardian’s responsibility to make sure that students go to school if the law requires it.  If a parent neglects or refuses to fulfill this responsibility, they can be fined up to $200.

David will probably not receive a very serious punishment for skipping school one time.  His parents will find out, and he might receive a consequence from them at home or feel that they trust him less.  His school will probably give him a consequence, too, like a detention.  However, if David skips school on a regular basis, the consequences will become more serious – he could even be charged with an offence under the Provincial Offences Act.

To learn more about mandatory school attendance, see sections 25, 26, 30, and 31 of the Education Act.

The scenario was written by JFCY PLE Team volunteer Stefan Venier. Legal info was written by Leora Jackson, a U of T law student and JFCY volunteer.  Reviewed by JFCY. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What is the Office of the Children's Lawyer?

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer

In this post, we look at the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL), which is a law office in the Ministry of the Attorney General that provides legal services to children and youth who are under the age of 18 in Ontario.

While they both represent children and youth on legal issues, JFCY and the OCL are different organizations doing different things.

What is the Office of the Children’s Lawyer?

The physical office where the OCL operates is in downtown Toronto, but there are lawyers and social workers across the province that work with the OCL, and services are available to children and youth anywhere in Ontario.

Lawyers who work for the OCL represent children in many areas of the law including custody and access disputes (when parents separate or get divorced), child protection (when a Children’s Aid Society is involved), and civil litigation (more about this below).

Social workers, who are also called Clinical Investigators at the OCL, may be involved in a case to prepare a report to the court in custody and access disputes and may also help lawyers who are representing children in these cases.

What does the office do?

There are two broad areas in which the OCL works – personal rights and property rights. The OCL does not provide representation or assistance in criminal matters. If you have an issue you think is related to criminal law, contact Justice For Children and Youth for further information and assistance. 

Personal Rights

Personal rights cases include custody and access matters and child protection proceedings. Often, in custody and access cases, parents are able to agree on many issues. There are times, however, where the adults cannot agree and the issues may become complicated. Usually, parents will have the opportunity to have a lawyer help them with their case. If the court thinks it is a necessary for the child or youth to have a lawyer, the court may request that the OCL provide representation to the child or youth. The court will ask the OCL to become involved when the court feels that it needs more information to protect the interests and needs of the child or youth.

One of your parents or the judge can make a referral to the OCL to request that the office becomes involved. If no one has made a request and you feel like you need a lawyer, you can ask one of your parents to ask the court for a referral to the OCL. However, just because the court asks the OCL to assist, it does not mean that the OCL will always become involved. The OCL makes the final decision whether or not to become involved in a custody or access case.

In cases where a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is involved, the CAS may apply to the court for an order that a child is in need of protection, and remove a child or youth from his or her home. This may happen for many reasons, including abuse and neglect. In most cases, the CAS, and the parent(s) or other adults involved in the case usually have their own lawyers. If the court thinks it is necessary to protect a child’s interests, the court may ask the OCL to provide a lawyer to represent the child or youth. If the court requests the OCL to provide representation in child protection cases, the OCL must do so.

Property Rights

Property rights cases involve civil litigation and estate and trust matters. In Ontario, children and youth (under 18 years of age) cannot sue or be sued in their own name. In a situation in which a child has a right to sue, or is being sued, the child needs someone to act as a Litigation Guardian, who will make decisions for a child in legal proceedings. This would most often come up in personal injury cases, for example if a child was in an accident.

Often, a parent, guardian, or other adult may be appointed by the court as a Litigation Guardian. However, there may be cases where this is not appropriate, or there is no one who is willing and able to act as a Litigation Guardian. If there is no other person available, the court may order that a lawyer from the OCL act as a Litigation Guardian. 

The OCL also represents children and youth estate and trust cases. If a parent, guardian or relative passes away, there are many legal issues that come up for children and youth, including looking at the will, if there is one, to make sure it is valid, and making sure there is adequate support for the child from the estate of the person who has died. 

Where can I get more information?

For more information, check out the Office of the Children’s Lawyer’s website here.

For more information on your rights in cases of separation and divorce, you can check out this pamphlet: Where Do I Stand? A Child's Legal Guide to Separation and Divorce.

This blog post was written by JFCY volunteer Christine Doucet. Christine is a member of the PLE team and YouTube subcommittee, and is a recent graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School

Photo Sources:  and

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Teenage Drunk Driving


Johnny,17, was at a party at the start of the summer and he wanted to celebrate. At this party they were serving alcoholic drinks. Johnny had 6 beers to drink. After some dancing, he decided to go home because he had a 2 AM curfew.

Johnny: I need to get home before 2am or my parents are going to be so mad!
Sam: You can’t drive home you had a lot to drink.
Johnny: It’s okay dude, I can handle it. My place is only a 15 minute drive away.
Sam: I really don’t think you should drive, you can’t even walk in a straight line.
Johnny: Dude, seriously relax, I will be fine
Sam: Alright, if you say so. Call me when you get home.
Johnny: Peace!

Did Sam handle the situation well? Since Johnny was intoxicated, Sam could have taken matters into his own hands and taken Johnny’s car keys away.

As Johnny was driving home, he saw sirens in his rear view mirror, it was the police. Johnny pulled over and waited for the police officer to approach his vehicle. Johnny was very afraid at this moment because he was worried about being charged with some form of drunk driving offence.

Officer: Can I see your license and registration please?
Johnny: Yes, you can.
Officer: You smell like alcohol. Have you been drinking tonight?
Johnny: I had a little bit to drink Officer.

The police asked him to submit to a breathalyzer sample. Not wanting to get in any more trouble, Johnny complied and blew into the breathalyzer. His blood alcohol content revealed that he had more than 80 mg of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The officer arrested Johnny on the spot and he is now concerned about the legal ramifications of what he has done.

The Law: Impaired Driving and Driving with Blood Alcohol Over 0.08

There are a number of legal issues at work here. This blog post post focuses on drunk driving. Please read other JFCY posts on underage drinking; see also Concerts and Underage Drinking, and on what happens if you drive with alcohol in your system on a G2 license.

Across Canada, it is a criminal offence to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs and/or while having a blood alcohol content of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood or more  (called “0.08”).

With high blood alcohol levels, adults and youths may be charged with impaired driving. Impaired driving, which means driving while your ability is affected by alcohol or drugs, is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada under Section 253(1)(a). Driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more is also a crime under Section 253(1)(b). Your vehicle does not even have to be moving; you can be charged if you are impaired behind the wheel, even if you have not started to drive. If convicted or found guilty, you will be sentenced by a court.  

It is also a criminal offence to refuse to provide a breathalyzer sample without a reasonable excuse. Not knowing you have to provide a sample, or saying that a lawyer told you not to blow for a breathalyzer are NOT reasonable excuses. This is covered by Section 254 of the Criminal Code which also explains how the breathalyzer process works.

Since Johnny is a youth, between the ages of 12 and 17, the Youth Criminal Justice Act applies to him. As a result it is not possible to predict as clearly what sentence he could get if found guilty. However, this also changes the way the police officer must interact with Johnny. For example, s. 146 of the YCJA imposes a different standard for obtaining evidence, not binding youth to certain written and/or oral statements that were obtained when the youth didn’t have the opportunity to speak with a parent and/or alawyer.  Also, police must speak to youth using words that the youth is able to understand.  

Please note that there are additional penalties related to the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario that will apply. Please see the JFCY blog post on G2 license offences for more information.

Now although this scenario didn’t turn out fatal, it is very possible it may have. Johnny might have killed someone on his way home. This is one fatally which happened in Toronto recently. This was the end result...

The scenario and conclusion were written by PLE Team volunteer Diana Rozo (a York U student).  Legal info was written by JFCY summer law student Jeremy Ozier and reviewed by JFCY.