Mary Birdsell – full bio

Mary Birdsell (she/her), B.A., LL.B. – Executive Director

Mary Birdsell, B.A., LL.B., is the Executive Director of Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY). Mary has been a lawyer at JFCY since she was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1996. She is one of Canada’s leading experts on children’s rights in a broad array of legal subjects; in particular, with expertise on the application of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children in domestic law. For over 25 years she has been a tireless advocate for individual young people facing significant adversity. Click here for full bio.

Mary has been active in all areas of JFCY’s work, including direct representation of young people, test case litigation, public legal education, community development, systemic law reform, and mentoring and supporting child rights advocates in our office and beyond. She has been instrumental in increasing access to justice for young people, including services for homeless and unstably housed young people, through the creation of JFCY’s innovative Street Youth Legal Services program.

Mary has advocated on a range of youth justice issues at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as tribunals and inquests. She has been extensively involved at the local community level, and provincial, national, and international levels. She works with people from public school students to lawyers, judges and other professionals educating about the rights of children and the law as it affects young people across a range of legal subjects – including children’s rights, youth criminal justice, rights to education, privacy, child protection, health, mental health, incarceration, homelessness, and the legal representation of children.

Mary is the Chair of the CBA Child and Youth Law section; a board member of A Way Home Canada; a member of the OBA’s Access to Justice committee; was a founder, and is a past chair of the OBA’s Child and Youth Law section; is a former board member of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children; and has been involved in many committees and activities to advance the rights of children including Ryerson University’s Cross-Over Project; Legal Aid Ontario’s Criminal Justice Advisory committee; the Ministry for Children and Youth Services Provincial Roundtable on Youth Criminal Justice; the OCL’s VYSA advisory group; and on the development committee of 311 Jarvis Court’s mental health diversion court.

Mary is a co-author of Prosecuting and Defending Youth Criminal Justice Cases, 2d. ed. (Toronto: Emond Publishing, 2019). In recent years Mary has been the recipient of the Senate of Canada’s Sesquicentennial Medal (2018), the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Guthrie Award (2018), Legal Aid Ontario’s Sidney B. Linden Award (2018), the Bertha Wilson Honour Society of Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law (2020), the Law Society of Ontario’s J. Shirley Denison Award (2020), and the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada’s Lynn Factor Stand Up for Kids Award (2021).