Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has selected 11 “leading young Canadians” to add to his Youth Council — one of whom is Justin Charles Wong, a fourth-year computer engineering student at UBC.
On the Youth Council, Wong and the other members will serve as a non-partisan advisory council to the prime minister and the ministers of Canada.
“What we’re able to do is have a bit more access than I think a normal person would between the prime minister and the ministers, and to bring up relevant topics,” said Wong. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be youth matters, but any type of matters. So we talk about ... big, controversial topics.”
Taking inspiration from his own experiences of being bullied as a child, Wong is personally interested in giving schools increased tools and education to help them manage situations in which bullying might occur.
“When I was getting bullied, the staff didn’t really know how to handle situations,” he said. “It’ll range from ‘boys will be boys’ to ‘well, just stop doing that.’”
Wong advocates for the implementation of safe spaces, where students can go and talk with staff, councillors or other students about anything that they are having struggles with. Through this, he hopes to have a positive affect on students’ mental health.
“Whether people consider it or not, mental health is tied with that. If you get bullied from a young age, it sets a negative precedent to sometimes be around people. I don’t think some people ever get over that.”
The Youth Council meets three to four times per year in person and they are required to put in 15 hours of work per week. In the meantime, they stay connected through Skype calls and their Facebook group. Wong was selected from around 16,000 applicants to join the second cohort of the council, while the 15 members from the first cohort started in September. Both cohorts serve two-year mandates.
Wong is also currently on co-op with Avigilon, a company that specializes in video surveillance and security equipment.
Wong says that he feels “honoured and humbled” to be a part of this experience.
“Everybody on the council seemed a little bit intimidating to me because they seemed to be in so many interesting things, but they’re all super passionate and they all have the same mindset of being humbled by the experience. I think having that gratitude is a beneficial thing.”
In one Youth Council meeting, he recalls chatting in a Calgary café with Trudeau himself, whom he described as “super down to Earth.”
Wong emphasized that the Youth Council is unafraid to press Trudeau on tough matters.
“He doesn’t want us sitting there being like, ‘Oh, you're amazing.’ He wants us being there like, ‘Okay, hit me with the tough questions.’ It speaks to his personality and his experience being a teacher before.”
Wong encourages people from UBC or other communities to contact him if they have any big ideas or pressing issues to bring forward.
“Please feel free to contact me, follow me [on social media] and just engage — because that’s what I’m going to do as well.”