Written by Arthur Gallant, @ArthurGallant27, CAF ambassador and former young person in care.
Friday September 18th, 2015 was no ordinary day for me nor will it be a day I ever forget. As I stood outside the Toronto North Family Courthouse I saw people crying, I heard people cursing, I saw lawyers with briefcases holding files in their hands while consoling their clients. I go through security and sit down in the waiting room. There’s tension in the air and people are clearly anxious as they wait their turn to be called into court. Most people are here over child custody issues and 16 years ago my mom was one of those people as she unsuccessfully tried to retain her parental rights. I am sitting in the waiting room intently starring at my watch, making small talk with those around me, waiting my turn to go into Courtroom C at 1 PM. When asked how I am feeling, I reply that I am nervous, emotional, and anxious.
It is 12:55 PM and we go stand outside the courtroom to see if it’s my turn yet. There’s a green sign illuminated outside the courtroom saying “Court in Session”. I get my supporters to stand outside while I poke my head in. I give the clerks my name and they tell me I can invite my supporters into the courtroom while they get the judge from his chambers.
The judge walks in to the courtroom and everybody stands. Instead of making his way up to the bench, the judge walks over and shakes my hand and introduces himself to my supporters.
This is not any ordinary day in court nor is it a formal hearing; this is my paralegal swearing-in ceremony.
“This is not any ordinary day in court nor is it a formal hearing; this is my paralegal swearing-in ceremony.”
When I was apprehended by Children’s Aid Society 16 years ago, a lawyer was appointed to represent my interests. That lawyer was The Honourable Justice Stanley Sherr, who as you can tell by his title, is now a judge. Justice Sherr was a tireless and fearless advocate as my lawyer. Nowadays he continues to play a prominent role in my life as my mentor and role model as he continuously helps me in finding, encouraging, and assisting me in reaching my true potential. It is unheard of for a judge to keep in contact with his former client. Everyday, I wake up reminding myself that my relationship with Justice Sherr is a privilege and something I don’t take lightly.
In June, I graduated from the paralegal program at CDI College; in August I wrote my Law Society of Upper Canada paralegal licensing exam; and, on September 2, I learned I passed that exam. In order to complete the licensing process, I had to take an Oath of Office.
For clarity, Justice Sherr is the only person aside from my mom who has known me from the time CAS apprehended me.
“Having Justice Sherr hold my swearing-in ceremony in his courtroom was a dream come true for me.
“Having Justice Sherr hold my swearing-in ceremony in his courtroom was a dream come true for me.”
Justice Sherr started the ceremony talking about his time as my lawyer and how he knew ba ck in 1999 that there would be brighter days ahead for me. He also talked about even as a 9-year old I wanted to help people and choosing a career in law came as little surprise to him as I’ve been a lifelong advocate and he believes I will continue to help and advocate for people as I find my footing as a paralegal.
While standing in the courtroom, I couldn’t help but reflect and wonder. If those wood paneled walls could talk, what would they say? If the coat of arms hanging above the judge’s bench had eyes, what would it see? I imagine there’s a lot of heartache that goes on in that courtroom, I’m sure there’s a lot of decisions made in the courtroom that while painful, are in the best interests of both families and children.
I remembered all the people in my life who told me during my time in care that I’d amount to nothing yet also I remembered all of the people who told me I’d grow up and make my mark on this world.
As I recited my Oath of Office I began to cry; they weren’t tears of sorrow, they were tears of disbelief as I reflected on how far I’d come. What was once a dream of mine was now a reality. I guess in a sense you could say I was crying as I said goodbye to my old self. I was saying goodbye to my old identities as a youth in care, college dropout, troubled child, helpless child, young person with no potential etc. By taking my Oath of Office, I was officially taking on a new identity as a paralegal.
It’s now time for me to put my past behind me and put my future in front of me!