Award announcement

Mary Birdsell receives The Law Foundation of Ontario Guthrie Award

October 23, 2018

Children’s rights advocate Mary Birdsell receives the 2018 Guthrie Award, The Law Foundation of Ontario’s signature award to recognize exceptional access to justice champions.

Ms Birdsell is the Executive Director of Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY), a legal aid clinic dedicated to protecting and advancing the legal rights and dignity of children and youth.

Prior to her tenure as Executive Director, Ms Birdsell was a community development lawyer and staff lawyer at JFCY. During that time she created Street Youth Legal Services (SYLS), one of the only programs of its kind in the world. Addressing a service gap that Ms Birdsell identified, SYLS provides legal information, advice, referrals, and representation to homeless youth — meeting those young people where they are, including in-person at various youth-serving organizations across the city.

Ms Birdsell has appeared at all levels of courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, on questions related to justice issues for children and youth across a range of legal subjects, the rights of children in criminal justice, rights of child witnesses, rights of children in immigration detention, rights of transgender youth, and on behalf of homeless youth impacted by the Safe Streets Act. She has also appeared at inquests, including the Ashley Smith Inquest.

Throughout her career, Ms Birdsell has dedicated many hours to public legal education and training for children and youth and community and legal professionals.

She has participated in numerous committees and groups, including the: Cross-Over Youth Project; Canadian Bar Association’s Children’s Law Committee and newly formed Child and Youth Law Section; 311’s Jarvis’ Community Youth Court and 311 Advisory Committee; Canada’s Youth Justice Education Partnership; Toronto’s Committee for Better Policing; and the Conflict Resolution Educators Network.

She is currently the Past Chair of the Child and Youth Law section of the Ontario Bar Association, a section she co-founded, a Board member and Treasurer of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, and a Board member of A Way Home Canada. She co-authored Prosecuting and defending youth criminal justice cases: a practitioner’s handbook.

Read the full award announcement on The Law Foundation of Ontario’s website to learn more about Ms Birdsell and her achievements.

The Law Foundation of Ontario

The Law Foundation of Ontario has been advancing access to justice since 1974. Through granting and collaboration, the Foundation invests in knowledge and services that help people understand the law and use it to improve their lives. The Foundation also administers the Class Proceedings Fund, which provides cost assistance in class actions. The Foundation’s main source of revenue is interest received from lawyers’ and paralegals’ mixed trust accounts. Another source of revenue is cy-près awards. When received, cy-près revenue is allocated to the Foundation's national Access to Justice Fund.

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Mary Birdsell

The Law Foundation of Ontario

Law School

Dalhousie University

Year Of Call


Area Of Practice

Human Rights