By Victoria Shariati
For most students, volunteer opportunities do not often include learning about covert investigation techniques and pediatric forensic reports.
However for that was exactly the case for students enrolled in Dr. Alex Wellington’s Philosophy of Punishment course who were given the opportunity to volunteer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC).
To be eligible for the Community Engagement Experience Opportunity (CEEO), applicants were required to submit a resume, a statement of interest, and a list of relevant courses.
Students from Dr. Wellington’s Philosophy of Law course were encouraged to apply as well.
Amanda Carling, AIDWYC’s Legal Education Counsel, was invited to speak at Ryerson by Dr. Wellington and Dr. Reena Tandon on January 19.
“I gave a presentation about the causes of wrongful convictions and some of AIDWYC’s cases,” Carling stated. “I have given several such presentations, primarily to Criminology classes, but also to a couple Philosophy classes.”
According to Carling, students will be primarily contributing to the AIDWYC blog. Also, they’ll be helping with fundraising and other “public legal education initiatives.”
Seeking experience opportunities for students in her course, Dr. Wellington contacted Dr. Avner Levin, the Chair of the Law and Business Department at the Ted Rogers School of Management.
Dr. Levin is also the Treasurer of AIDWYC. “The law centre used to have an intern circle, so I wanted to see what opportunities they could offer us,” Dr. Wellington said. “It’s really to help students link theory and practice. A Philosophy course can be very abstract and conceptual.”
Carling was looking for students who demonstrated a strong interest in criminal law and human rights issues. She was also interested in candidates with strong writing skills.
“I was very impressed with all the applicants,” she stated. “Unfortunately, AIDWYC only has the capacity to take on two students.”
Similie D’Souza, an International Economics and Finance student, participated in a similar CEEO with AIDWYC last year while enrolled in Dr. Wellington’s Philosophy of Law course.
Last year, six applicants were selected for the opportunity. The students were divided into groups of two, and asked to write scripts for a potential YouTube video about certain legal topics.
D’Souza and her partner examined why innocent people confess to committing crimes. Their script concerned an immigrant who wanted to end his legal troubles as quickly as possible in order to protect his family.
“Sometimes when trials go on for a long time, people think it’s shameful. They don’t want their families to go through that.” D’Souza said.
In teaching Philosophy of Punishment, Dr. Wellington said she’s constantly on the Internet looking for information. This is how she became familiar with the work of AIDWYC.
“I think it’s a really valuable experience.” She said.
As written on its website, AIDWYC is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for individuals who are wrongly convicted of crimes. Founded in 1993, the organization also seeks to prevent similar injustices from occurring in the future.
Carling works to try to prevent wrongful convictions by providing public legal education sessions and organizing continuing professional development sessions for those in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, she maintains the organization’s social media.
“I hope they learn more about wrongful convictions,” Carling said, referring to the students. “I also hope that they will come to see the value of public legal education.” She believes that giving students an opportunity to learn outside the classroom is important.
Last year’s volunteers wrote in their evaluations that working in the AIDWYC environment alongside Carling was a highlight of the experience.
“It’s always great for people to get experience working with social media,” Dr. Wellington stated. “It really helps people to develop their communication skills in pursuit of social justice.”
Dr. Wellington has been teaching Philosophy of Law for nine years, and Philosophy of Punishment for five. She hopes to continue to work with AIDWYC for future CEEOs.
“As long as Amanda Carling is willing to work with us,” she added.