The Law is (Not) For Kids: A Legal Rights Guide for Canadian Children and Teens1
By Ned Lecic and Marvin Zuker
Athabasca University Press (AUP). 2019. pp. 303.
Since scholars and legal professionals began examining young people’s position in society, there have been several philosophical shifts in thinking about childhood and youth. From a more holistic, inclusive, and rights-oriented approach, the book provides a valuable resource for children and young people to learn how to navigate various institutions and systems that shape their daily lives. Ned Lecic and Marvin Zuker composed this book to share their legal and educational expertise with young people in Canada so that they can become better informed and carve out space for their voices to be heard. The format and language used make their ideas accessible to a broad audience. This should include not only young people, but also parents/caregivers, educators, and any professionals working with children and youth.
The Law is (Not) For Kids: A Legal Rights Guide for Canadian Children and Teens.
The book is organized into nine chapters beginning with a presentation of critical foundational information on children/young people’s varying roles in their lives and society. The authors discuss being a minor, young people’s relationships with parents/caregivers, their experiences in school, work, with peers and in romantic relationships, then moving into activities and experiences often attached to late adolescence/early adulthood. The chapter then explores the unfortunate reality of too many young people who become involved with more formal institutions in the defence of their rights and/or the criminal justice system, more specifically. This book effectively presents these key themes that reflect the developmental and life-course stages of young people, the informal and formal institutions and connections that are central to better understanding youth’s development, and the delicate nature of key life stages and experiences.
In the Preface, the authors encourage young people to learn and ask questions about laws that impact their lives. Chapter 1 explains the levels of government in Canada, the origins of laws and statutes, the enforcement of laws, and the complicated nature of (children’s) rights. Also, the chapter highlights the unique experiences and practices involving Indigenous and First Nations peoples. While laws and the processes involved in creating and enforcing them is incredibly complex, Lecic and Zuker adeptly discuss the details in a manner that can be reasonably understood, and they include examples where needed.
Chapter 2, “Being a Minor,” transitions into formal/legal distinctions between “child” (i.e., minor) and “adult” detailing for young people the legal status of this role, and most importantly, what it means in terms of access or permission to engage in certain activities; for example leisure time, travel, voting, and (licit) substance use. This chapter also explains contracts, property ownership and last will and testaments, taking legal action, seeking medical care, and applying for social assistance in the context of being a minor.
Moving beyond the level of the child/young person, Chapter 3 examines young people’s relationships with their parents[/caregivers]. Applying a traditional familial lens by referencing parents (and acknowledging adoptive parents), the authors thoroughly outline the “proprietorship” parents have over their children, and more specifically, the distinct nature of parental support and authority across provinces/territories in Canada. Despite the sensitive nature of some of the themes, Lecic and Zuker present the information balancing a matter-of-fact approach with delicate touches. This includes how certain temporarily negative experiences became opportunities for children/young people to advocate on behalf of themselves and make positive changes for youth more broadly.
Chapters 4 and 5 take the reader outside the home environment and into the school and workplace. As in the previous chapters, the authors address several key themes in these domains as they relate to children/youth, from their rights/duties to attend school, the options associated with schooling and education (e.g., private, religion-based, homeschooling), rules and rights within the school setting – including very importantly LGBTQA[+] rights), the consequences of breaking the rules for both students and teachers, and bullying, to labour laws, child labour and minimum employment ages across provincial/territorial jurisdictions.
All adolescents and young adults will find Chapter 6 informative as it explores their rights attached to “Love, Sex, and Marriage.” Especially of importance for young people and in line with recent discourse and debate, the chapter begins with an overview of consent, including the age of consent in Canada and some of the associated complexities and exceptions. The authors also address sexting and online harassment, marriage laws, reproductive rights, and becoming a parent while legally a minor.
Chapter 7 opens by acknowledging that the systems/institutions examined in the preceding chapters are open to flaws and have limitations in their capacity to ensure the safety and wellbeing, as well as that the rights of youth are upheld. For this reason, the authors present information on the services available to young people in exceptional cases, including child welfare/protection services. Examples in which such services can be called upon for support include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, and neglect, all of which are further explained in the chapter. Lecic and Zuker also, briefly, remark early in the chapter on a critical outcome of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action related to child/family services, with the federal government conceding authority in cases involving Indigenous and First Nations children and youth to (their respective) Indigenous governments. Throughout the remainder of the chapter, the authors provide answers to valuable questions about issues from how various social services can help, to how children/young people’s level of agency and self-advocacy, as well as their rights, come into play in different child welfare scenarios.
For some young people, gaps and limitations in these existing systems/institutions can result in their involvement in the youth justice system. This is the theme of Chapter 8, in which Lecic and Zuker succinctly outline the key players and processes involved in the justice process, types of offences, youth justice legislation and its evolution, age of criminal responsibility, the processes of being arrested and detained and going to court, as well as the range of youth sanctions in Canada. The authors also include a small section on civil law and civil liability.
Lecic and Zuker end their book sharing their regretful but essential reminder that while youth’s rights have progressed in several ways, still their degree of agency is often restricted by many of our laws and systems. Thus, they call for more decision-making powers to be placed in the hands of young people instead of adults. Importantly, parents (/caregivers) should prioritize what is in the child’s best interest and offer more freedom to youth as they mature. In this chapter, the authors also reinforce that progress has been made in several areas associated with children/youth’s rights in Canada, and that some countries have taken an even more (pro-)active stance in prioritizing the rights of young people, presenting Norway’s Children Act as an example. The authors then share essential information on how young people can have their voices represented and heard, by connecting with and talking to their peers (i.e., other young people) who have had shared experiences and/or are of the same age/life stage, sharing ideas and concerns within young people’s networks and/or to wider audiences through social media and other websites, and even community organizations, lawmakers, government departments/representatives and politicians. Finally, Lecic and Zuker outline more formal routes to enhancing young people’s access to rights by pursuing the United Nations’ (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and through court/legal challenges. Throughout the book, the authors reference the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recognizing its limitations while underscoring its importance to hearing the voices of young people in Canada.
While the content of this book is presented in a concise and understandable format, it may have been helpful to have included brief chapter summaries that provide concise reviews of the main ideas and approaches presented. While this book is suitable for many young people, there may be children/youth who are or feel excluded from these traditional institutions, may not be from traditional family/home environments and contexts, are not attending school, and/or who may be involved in the social and/or justice systems. There are also important considerations for children/youth from diverse educational backgrounds and experiences, other cultures, races/ethnicities, genders, and languages, among others.
The Law is (Not) for Kids emphasizes, now more than ever, children and youth should become familiar with their rights and develop tools and resources to support these rights. Lecic and Zuker demonstrate that children and youth should be invited to the table and included in conversations about their wellbeing and rights. This book is a key source in preparing young people for this endeavour and encouraging more young people to share their perspectives with adults who understand the importance of youth inclusion and listening.
MEMORIAL UNIVERSITY OF NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
 The book is also available online for free at https://read.aupress.ca/read/the-law-is-not-for-kids/section/1fcfe3bf-4dc3-405c-9088-95fde3b8b6f7