Southwestern Ontario high school students learn the law with mock murder trial

“As I stated, the last thing I remember was the warning shot I pulled,” said Gianna Saad.The 17-year-old was on a witness stand at the Superior Court building in Windsor, Ont., on Monday.She is playing Charlie Laval, a fictional character who stands accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a neighbour, Bailey Tanner.Drew Champagne, also a 17-year-old student, pressed the witness.”Did you have any intention of using the gun that you purchased?” Champagne asks, in character as an assistant Crown Attorney.The accused hesitates — but only for a moment. “I bought it in fear. It wasn’t my intention to kill anybody.”Gianna Saad, a 17-year-old student of Cardinal Carter Catholic Secondary School, testifies on the witness stand in a mock trial at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)These proceedings were part of competitive mock trial. The program is a teaching tool by the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) and the Ontario Bar Association.Regional secondary school students are provided first-hand experience with criminal law by role-playing as defence attorneys, Crown attorneys, witnesses, and accused murderers.”Giving them the opportunity to feel that and experience it is something they just can’t replicate in a classroom,” said Butch Rickeard, a public high school teacher and vice-chair of the OJEN’s Windsor-Essex committee.The defence team consisting of students from Cardinal Carter Catholic Secondary School make their case during a mock trial at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)Monday’s trials involved Grade 11 and Grade 12 students from Cardinal Carter Catholic Secondary School, St. Anne Catholic High School, and Ursuline College Chatham.The teenagers participated in three trials, each deciding the same fictional case.Conceived by the OJEN, the case is purposefully complicated by allegations of harassment by the deceased, evidence the deceased was carrying a knife, and the suggestion that Laval was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.Drew Champagne, a 17-year-old student St. Anne Catholic High School, poses questions in the role of assistant Crown attorney during a mock trial at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)Students took turns on the witness stand in the roles of a friend of the deceased, a different neighbour, a psychiatrist, and the defendant himself.”It’s a case that’s used province-wide in all of the mock trial tournaments,” said Justice Paul Howard, chair of OJEN’s Windsor-Essex committee.”Basically, it’s a dispute about two neighbouring property owners.”Real judges preside over each of the three trials. Real lawyers and law students offer volunteer coaching.A team of evaluators observe the court proceedings and determine scores for the student teams.High school students participating in a mock trial at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)Kylie Freeswick, an 18-year-old student at Urusline College, said her participation has made her even more certain she wants to pursue law as a profession.”I’m really passionate about law,” she explained.”I want to be a criminal defence lawyer. Helping people that can’t help themselves, or feel stuck and they can’t do anything. Helping those that have been wrongfully accused.”Another Ursuline College student, 16-year-old Zoe Desjardins, is also interested in working in law — but she admitted to feeling intimidated by the scrutiny in the courtroom.”It was very nerve-racking, if I’m honest with you,” she said.Logan Quiring, a 17-year-old student at Cardinal Carter Catholic Secondary School, argues in the role of a defence attorney at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor. (Dalson Chen/CBC)Although a violent criminal case resulting in death could be seen as mature content for teenagers, Rickeard said OJEN puts significant time into vetting the material and ensuring it’s school-appropriate.”If you want the experience to be authentic, you’ve got to give them some of the things that are going on in our courtrooms today,” he said.The OJEN has held mock trials for students in many previous years, but the program went on hiatus during COVID restrictions. This year’s program involves its first in-person mock trials since 2019.Butch Rickeard, a high school teacher and vice-chair of the Windsor-Essex committee of the Ontario Justice Education Network. (Dalson Chen/CBC)Windsor Morning11:04High school students have court date today – for mock murder trial

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