uOttawa law students make mental health a priority at Ottawa Law Classic

Third annual charity hockey game for DIFD (Do It For Daron) raises highest amount to date
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For a fundraiser that’s about helping our next generation of lawyers cope with stress and anxiety, it was pretty tense watching the final minutes of the Ottawa Law Classic charity hockey game held at the University of Ottawa’s Minto Sports Complex on Saturday night.

The nail-biter of a game saw students from uOttawa's Faculty of Law common law section take on students from the civil law section, with the latter team clinching victory in an overtime shoot out. The players were cheered on by their friends and classmates at the $15-a-ticket event.

It’s the third consecutive time that the civil law team has won since the inaugural game in 2018. Yet, it was also the closest the team has come to being defeated.

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Law students at the University of Ottawa played in the third annual Ottawa Law Classic in support of mental health awareness through the DIFD program at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The ultimate champ that night was the beneficiary, DIFD (Do It For Daron), a program run through the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health to raise awareness about youth mental health. 

The initiative was created by friends and family of Daron Richardson after she lost her life to suicide at age 14. Her father is Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson, who is also a former player and assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators. He and his wife, Stephanie, have been mental health champions since the tragedy.

A record-breaking $13,000 was raised for DIFD, beating out last year’s total of $11,600 and the $12,800 before that. 

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Law students at the University of Ottawa played in the third annual Ottawa Law Classic in support of mental health awareness through the DIFD program at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Organizers recruited a bunch of new sponsors from the legal community this year, consisting of: Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, Gowling WLG, Caza Saikaley, Colin Bedard, BLG, Kelly Santini, Soloway Wright and a couple of Toronto-based firms, Blakes and Cassels. Real estate company Minto Group was also back as a major sponsor.

Interested players had to fill out an online form as part of the drafting process. Not only did they have to list their hockey experience but they also had to explain what the cause meant to them.

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Organizers and participants of the third annual Ottawa Law Classic held in support of DIFD gather for a group shot on the ice after their game, held at the University of Ottawa's Minto Sports Complex on Saturday, February 8, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Adam Dodek, dean of the Common Law Section of uOttawa’s Faculty of Law, was on hand for the ceremonial puck drop with Pierre Thibault, assistant dean of the Civil Law Section. Shenille Lewis sang the national anthem while fellow law student Amos Vang helped out as the announcer. He's also the sports announcer for uOttawa’s GeeGees. Oh, and he’s a classical pianist, too. 

Ottawa Law Classic organizers say their goal is to make students feel more comfortable talking about mental health problems. Nobody should have to struggle alone, they told OBJ.social.

As challenging as law school is — particularly in the first year — students are also preparing to embark on careers that are stressful and competitive. Many lawyers have to deal with client demands, billing pressures, long hours, deadlines and changing laws. 

This year’s game was organized by uOttawa law students Irina Fedak, Colby Georgsen, Jillian Skinner, Montana Licari and Selena Saikaley, who was friends with Daron Richardson and has been volunteering throughout her post-secondary years for the DIFD cause. 

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From left, uOttawa law students Irina Fedak, Colby Georgsen, Jillian Skinner, Montana Licari and Selena Saikaley organized this year's Ottawa Law Classic, held at the university's Minto Sports Complex on Saturday, February 8, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Performing the ceremonial puck drop at the Ottawa Law Classic were, on the left, Pierre Thibault, assistant dean of the Civil Law Section, and Adam Dodek, dean of the Common Law Section of the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Shenille Lewis, a second-year law student at uOttawa, sings the national anthem at the Ottawa Law Classic. Photo by Caroline Philips
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Amos Vang, who is a law student at uOttawa and a sports announcer, with Sarah Reich, co-founder of the Ottawa Law Classic, at the Minto Sports Complex on Saturday, February 8, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Saikaley told OBJ.social that the experience of losing Daron opened up her eyes to the importance of having those difficult but necessary conversations about mental health, whether with her parents or friends.

“It’s so nice having people there to listen to you and tell you that you’re not alone, that a lot of people are also going through this right now, and you’re going to get through it,” said Saikaley.

Saikaley, a third-year student, plans to article at Ottawa firm Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall. It's where her father, Charles Saikaley, was a partner before his recent retirement from law.

Georgsen has a personal connection to the cause: his dad previously struggled for a long time with mental illness before passing away during Georgsen's first year in law school. He's now in his third year.

“My involvement is a way to honour him and remember him, and to help make sure that other people in the future don’t have to deal with what he had to deal with,” said Georgsen, who came here to study from Calgary.

Organizers had a white hockey jersey available for supporters to write down messages about mental health awareness. The plan is to put the jersey up on display in the Faculty of Law building, he said.

“For a long time, mental illness wasn’t really viewed as an illness and people didn’t feel okay talking about it," said Georgsen. "I think it’s really important that we feel okay to talk about these things rather than turning inward and turning to other coping mechanisms that aren’t as healthy for us.”

Georgsen, who plans to article at the federal Department of Justice, will be returning next year as a spectator, much like former uOttawa law students Jordan Wright, Will Roantree and Sarah Reich. They co-founded the Ottawa Law Classic, along with Natalie Tershakowec.

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From left, Jordan Wright, Sarah Reich and Will Roantree, who co-founded the Ottawa Law Classic in 2018, attended this year's game as spectators. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“We’re just really happy that it’s been passed down,” said Reich. “It seems like they’ve got some good momentum going and, hopefully, it lasts. They’ve done an amazing job.”

Wright is now articling at Gowling WLG in Ottawa and continues to give back, along with Roantree, by being part of a newly formed group of young professionals supporting the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.

Roantree and Reich, who are articling at Ottawa firm Kelly Santini LLP, were cheering on one of the firm’s partners, J.P. Zubec. The former professional hockey referee played on the common law team in the Charity Classic Game. There were also a couple of lawyers from Caza Saikaley LLP participating, too.

Seeing the players on the ice, said Wright, is a good reminder that everyone, no matter how busy they are, needs to make some time for themselves.

"It's hard to prioritize yourself, but events like this remind you that you need to," said Wright.

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From left, Kelly Santini LLP's Will Roantree, J.P. Zubec, Sarah Reich and Sasha Willms, who's an associate at the firm, at the Ottawa Law Classic. Photo by Caroline Philips

— caroline@obj.ca