2018 Sidney B. Linden award goes to Mary Birdsell

Published: March 4, 2019

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Mary Birdsell

This year’s recipient of the Sidney B. Linden Award is given Mary Birdsell in honor of a 22‑year career developing innovative ways for young people to find access to justice.

Ms. Birdsell is the executive director of Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY), a legal aid clinic that offers legal services for young people under 18 and homeless youth under 25. While at JCFY, she has been one of the main forces behind providing legal services for homeless youth where they’re most likely to spend their time—at shelters, drop-in centres, and health clinics. This ensured that vulnerable people who are often intimidated by even visiting a law office, and who are often transient, could have an answer to their legal questions—while reducing the risk of losing contact with a lawyer or not getting an answer at all.

The Sidney B. Linden Award, is given by Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) to exceptional individuals who help low‑income Ontarians in the pursuit of access to justice.

“It’s such an honour to receive the Sidney B. Linden award,” Ms. Birdsell said. “For over 40 years, we at JFCY have dedicated ourselves to the protection and advancement of children’s rights and dignity, and ardently seek to improve access to justice for vulnerable young people. I am proud to be a part of this important work.”

Ms. Birdsell has worked with young people on the front lines, worked with government to improve programs and services, and made submissions to all levels of court. Julia Huys, a street youth legal services lawyer at JFCY lauded all of the various aspects of Ms. Birdsell’s work. “Mary sees gaps in services for highly marginalized populations that have difficulty accessing legal services through traditional channels,” Ms. Huys says. “I believe the creation, continuation, yearly funding applications, the accomplishment of securing core funding and the provision of these excellent and customized legal services all these years is representative of the dedication Mary has to low‑income people in Ontario.”

LAO’s Chair John McCamus praised Mary Birdsell’s work, noting, “Mary’s work helped young people get the legal support they needed—directly and immediately. The Sidney B. Linden Award this year celebrates the important work that people like Mary, and organizations like JCFY, do for marginalized youth.”

Ms. Birdsell, who has also recently been awarded the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Guthrie Award as well as a Canadian Senate Sesquicentennial Award, for her work in access to justice, praised Legal Aid Ontario for its leadership in access to justice, particularly for marginalized communities in Ontario. According to Ms. Birdsell: “There is so much need, so many gaps, and so much work to be done. I am grateful to play a small part in this important work.”

Legal Aid Ontario will honour Ms. Birdsell in a ceremony in Toronto on April 2.

About the Award

Legal Aid Ontario’s Sidney B. Linden Award recognizes exceptional individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to helping low‑income Ontarians in the pursuit of access to justice. The award has been presented to eleven recipients previously: Grace Pluchino, Ryan Peck, Bob Richardson, William A. (Bill) Sullivan, Fergus J. (Chip) O’Connor, Peter G. Kirby, Michael Bossin, Barbara Jackman, J. Robert Kellermann, Paul Copeland and the late Dianne Martin.