The Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust (CCLET), a nonprofit research and educational organization created by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), celebrated its 22nd annual Fundamental Freedoms Conference on 5 December 2018. This year, eleven students from the Grade 11 and 12 law classes attended the conference held at Central Technical School, joining hundreds of other high school students from across the Toronto District School Board.

Prior to the conference, students registered online and selected two of the ten workshops offered: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The topics explored include hip-hop culture and crime; prisoner segregation, or cruel and inhumane treatment; student protests; digital rights and justice; wrongful convictions; selfies, sexting, and child pornography; prosecuting police officers; populism and democracy; reconciliation, decolonization and justice for First Nations, Inuit and Metis; and the legality of cannabis.

After a few words of welcome from the executive director and general counsel of the CCLA/CCLET, the keynote speech was delivered by Becky McFarlane, the senior director of programs and community services at the 519. She addressed the province’s repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, which she is working to halt as a co-applicant with the CCLA. She also spoke about her own experiences visiting schools, encouraging students to think critically about the education system.

Students were welcomed by the executive director of CCLET. Image: Bridget Huh

Ms. Woodley, who teaches both of the law classes this semester, especially appreciated Ms. McFarlane’s candor, and said that she “certainly took a lot away from her conversation about the importance of creating school environments where your identity and how you identify is affirmed, where you can understand what difference is and you can have your voice heard. If anything, it was such an important message for our students—for all students.”

The morning sessions ran for an hour following the keynote address, after which students returned to the auditorium foyer for lunch. A light lunch of tuna, egg or turkey sandwiches, and veggies was provided. In the afternoon, students attended their second workshop before returning to the auditorium for a 45-minute question and answer session with the CCLA.

The students who chose to attend approached the conference as a unique learning opportunity, and consequently gained valuable insight into important legal issues. Ryan Yan, a student in the Grade 12 law class, said that the workshops allowed him to “become far more knowledgeable on the legal dimensions involved with the topic of sexting and child pornography.”

The annual conference certainly contributes to the CCLET’s goal of encouraging the development of democratic habits by educating high school students about the issues facing society today. The next step for students, then, is to mobilize: to put into practice that which they have debated so rigorously.