Mary Birdsell

Mary Birdsell, BA (University of Alberta) 1988, LLB (Dalhousie) 1994, is the executive director of Justice for Children and Youth ( JFCY). Mary graduated from Dalhousie University Law School having been active in the law school’s legal clinic. She was called to the Bar in Ontario in 1996. In her career at JFCY, Mary has been deeply involved in all aspects of its work: community development, public legal education, law reform, and client representation. As counsel, and now as director at Canada’s only organization offering legal services exclusively to young people across a range of legal subject areas, Mary has represented young people in Ontario youth courts under the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Additionally, she represents young people in many other areas of law, including education, human rights, health and mental health, child welfare, and income support. She has been involved in inquests into the death of young people in custody, and she has worked extensively with homeless and street-involved young people. She has appeared at every level of court in Canada, and she has made numerous presentations to government and standing committees regarding youth justice issues.

Mary has provided public legal education for young people and the adults who support them, including in community organizations, schools, institutions, and custodial settings. She has been involved in professional training for an array of adults who work with children and young people (including lawyers, adjudicators, and judges), has been a guest lecturer at a number of universities on a variety of youth justice issues, has spoken at numerous conferences where the issues of young people and their rights and unique legal circumstances are being considered, and has been involved with a large number of community groups and advisory committees that are developing projects and resources for young people, including a specialized mental health and addictions court for young people in Toronto. Mary is on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, and she recently co-founded the Ontario Bar Association’s Child and Youth Law Section. In 2018, Mary received the Guthrie Award from the Law Foundation of Ontario, an honour that recognizes those with significant and proven track records of furthering access to justice.



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