Book Review: The Law Is (Not) for Kids–A Legal Rights Guide for Canadian Children and Teens

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

The Law is (Not) for Kids: A Legal Rights Guide for Canadian Children and Teens. By Ned Lecic & Marvin Zuker. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press, 2019. xiii, 289 p. Includes tables and appendices. ISBN 978-1-77199-237-4 (softcover) $22.99.

Reviewed by Angela Gibson
Bora Laskin Law Library
University of Toronto
In CLLR 45:1

In 1976, Marvin Zuker collaborated with June Callwood to write The Law Is Not for Women, a resource meant not only to inform Canadian women of their legal rights, but also of the rights they were denied because they were women. Now, 23 years later, Zuker and co-author Ned Lecic have written a guide for Canadian children and young adults in a similar vein. Using plain language, the aim of the authors is to empower young people by providing them with information about their legal rights while at the same time emphasizing the inequalities resulting from the limitations of those rights and thus encouraging them to become advocates for themselves.

The first chapter is a very general introduction to Canadian law and includes an explanation of the concept of jurisdiction; a description of where laws (statutes and case law) come from; and brief introductions to The Indian Act, the court system, the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and relevant international treaties and conventions.

Chapters 2 through 7 are overviews of areas of law and legal concepts that affect young people, including the age of majority and what it means to be a minor; family law and the best interests of the child; young people’s legal rights at school and at work; and finally, matters related to sex and relationships. Each of these chapters includes sections with a “question and answer” format to handle common queries. For example, Chapter 4, “Going to School,” describes the right to public education and relevant laws such as Ontario’s Education Act but also provides answers to very specific questions such as “Can the school open my locker?” and “Do I have any control over the education I receive?”

The focus of Chapter 7 is the role played by social services in protecting children. Chapter 8 describes what happens when young people break the law, including the process of getting arrested and the importance of requesting a lawyer at the time of arrest. Chapter 8 also describes the process of being released on bail and what going to court entails.

Finally, in Chapter 9, “Fighting for Your Rights,” the authors discuss different ways in which young people can advocate for change. This includes writing letters to members of parliament, organizing demonstrations, and creating petitions.

Throughout the book, the authors refer to relevant statutes and precedent-setting cases, including cases where young people themselves initiate changes to laws. The authors point out that while the laws that affect children are found mostly within provincial jurisdictions, the scope of this book does not allow them to cover similar laws in every province and territory. Through the use of tables, the authors are able to convey information about relevant legal provisions across the provinces and territories (i.e., the minimum age for leaving home and the minimum age for employment).

Appendices include a glossary of legal terms; a description of how a bill becomes law; a list of resources, which includes children’s rights websites and the names of organizations that provide legal information and support for children; and a list of relevant legislation, conventions, charters, and case law.

With this book, Zuker and Lecic offer a friendly and positive starting point for young Canadians to learn about their legal rights and how to advocate for themselves. It is this latter point that makes the book unique; it is not just a book for children on how a bill becomes a law. Rather, the authors believe that children are unfairly treated and do not possess adequate rights within Canada’s legal system, and the information in this book is meant to inform the reader to take action. As such, this book is an invaluable resource to which all young people should have ready access, and it should be included in elementary and secondary school libraries, public libraries, and any other library used by adults who work with children.

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