“All rise!” said a law clerk as three judges walked into the Appeals Court at Osgoode Hall, ready to preside over a child pornography appeal case presented by nine high school students.
The Charter Challenge is a semiannual competition designed by the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) for high school students. It involves a legal case that is on appeal, meaning the person who was charged with a crime wants to overturn the trial judge’s decision. The two parties in an appeals case are the appellant, the person who was charged, and the respondent, the Crown or government, who are arguing against the appeal.
This year, the case was about a child pornographer who claimed that in the trial that found him guilty, the evidence that was used had been collected through an infringement of his sections 8 and 9 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms-protected rights.
The first step in participating in the challenge involved submitting a factum, which is typically a ten-thousand-word document outlining the reasons why appeal should be granted. Once the factums are submitted, law students from the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University review the documents and select four teams from each side for a shortlist. Then, law clerks from Osgoode Hall choose the finalists—one team from each side. This year, MGCI’s team consisted of Aiman Altaf, Helen Chen, Rayyan Esmail, Adil Haider, Bridget Huh, and Anna Xia, and was supervised by law teacher Ms.Woodley. The team was selected as the finalist for the appellant and the respondent’s team was from Humberview Secondary School. These teams were selected out of about forty other submissions and five-hundred other students.
Garneau students started participating in the Charter Challenge in 2016, when a team consisting of Khari Thomas, Cheng Cheng Lin, and Ryan Lin, submitted their factums to the competition and were selected as finalists. Since then, Ms.Woodley has been helping teams submit factums for the challenge.
Preparation for the factum this year started in October, as it was due mid-November. By the end of November, the finalists had been selected.
On 18 December, both teams went to the Appeals Court at Osgoode Hall to present their case within a 15-minute time limit. Although the final decision would also be based on the submitted factum, this oral submission was a final opportunity for teams to support their positions in front of judges. The three-judge-panel consisted of one judge, Judge Roberts, and two law clerks acting as judges.
After a nerve-wracking forty-five minutes consisting of both sides arguing and the judges deliberating, the judges came back to reveal their reserved decision. In real court cases, a reserved decision means the judges were not able to decide the case and will reveal their decision at a later time. In this case, there was a miscommunication between the Charter Challenge organizer and the presiding judges, who thought they needed to reach a consensus in order to deliver a decision. In reality, a majority decision was also acceptable.
The teams were told that a winner would not be selected, but they later found out that two of the judges had sided with Garneau’s team, making them the official winners. The judges also awarded a plaque to Rayyan Esmail for winning The Justice Gloria Epstein Award for Outstanding Advocacy. Rayyan was very pleased with both the award and the win, saying, “It felt great to win the award. We’d all put a lot of hard work into this, trying to get to this stage for multiple years now, and to have it recognized with the award, and more importantly to come out with the win, felt great.” He thought that the biggest factor that helped Garneau’s team win was the fact that it was a team effort. “We all knew our stuff inside and out. Despite the cliché of [the importance of] a team effort, I really do think that that made the difference.”
After delivering the decision, the judges gave personal oral-speaking advice to each of the contestants. Then, the contestants were taken to a conference room to meet and ask law clerks questions. Following this, two of the law clerks took the students on a tour of Osgoode Hall, presenting its history and some of its quirks.
Students were then dismissed to celebrate the experience and their success. According to the contestants, it was an excellent opportunity to learn more about the law, to improve their oral-speaking skills, and to get an insight into how cases are argued in court. As Bridget summarized, “The Charter Challenge was an amazing opportunity and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again in the spring. I think everyone who is interested in the law should try it at least once in their high school career.”