1) Tell us a little bit about yourself – your career, hobbies, interests?
Hello, my name is Mitchell Curtis. I was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada which is famous for the largest population of Finns outside of Finland (per capita), the Sleeping Giant (rock formation which is important to the local indigenous community call Nanabijou) and where Terry Fox stopped his marathon across Canada for Cancer research in 1980 (well before my time). I lived in Thunder Bay for 21 years before moving to Orillia which is just north of Toronto.
I studied at Confederation college getting my college diploma, I completed my undergraduate degree at Lakehead University in Criminology and then went on to study a master’s degree in Sociology. Upon completing my time as a professional student, I was hired on with the Barrie Police Service where I worked as a Special Constable for four and a half years. My roles included working with the judiciary, lawyers, prisoners and the public. During my employment I worked several different trials ranging from simple mischiefs to murder trials. I was also selected to work at the police station for a couple of contracts which required me to watch over arrested individuals. If you went out for a night on the town and had too much of a good time. You got to hang out with me until we could sober you up enough to get you home safely. Sadly, our accommodation ratings are still 1/5 stars. I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to thank my friends and coworkers for all they have done in my time with the Barrie Police.
In my spare time I have several different hobbies; I love getting out into the woods and going hiking. I was very lucky to be living in what is affectionately known as cottage country; so the area was filled with bush, lakes, rivers, and small mountains. I became a year roundhiker over the years so it wasn’t unheard of to find me in the bush in February or in June. I also enjoy powerlifting and running. Powerlifting being my favorite of the two, it has been a goal of mine to work towards what is affectionately called the 1000 lb club (453 kg). I am also venturing into the world of finance learning more about investing and I am trying to learn more about emerging technology like facial recognition, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which is part of the reason why I came to Estonia. Travelling has also become high on my list and I hope to continue to check off different and interesting places while I live in Europe. What good Canadian would I be if I didn’t say I love to watch and play hockey. Go leafs Go!
2) Why did you choose to study in Estonia?
I chose to come back to Estonia for a couple of reasons. One) I love to travel so having the opportunity to live in a foreign country is something that was incredibly appealing. The influence of other countries locally and regionally on a culture; I find it incredibly interesting. Two) It seemed like the right fit for me in my personal life as I was looking to make a change in career and go in a new direction. Three) I really enjoyed my time when I traveled to Estonia previously. I think that Tallinn is a beautiful city. I love living by the water and as someone who enjoys history; Old town is something that can’t be beat. Finally) I am hoping with the completion of my law degree to be able to work with governments to create regulations on the use of technologies like facial recognition. I hope that during my time here I can interact with some of the companies in these fields to get a deeper understanding on the topic. Plus, with NATO’s cybersecurity headquarters here in Estonia it felt like a good match to try and expose myself to that opportunity. It checked off a lot of boxes for me that I wasn’t able to get back home where I was.
3) What are your first impressions of Estonia?
The Baltics were the first place out of North America that I traveled to and my first foray into Europe. I did a 12-day solo backpack through the Baltics in May 2022 visiting Lithuania, Latviaand Estonia. Estonia was one of the countries I didn’t know a ton about, but I was very impressed when I came here. Tallinn is a beautiful city and I have had the chance now to spend about a month and a half in the country. The interconnectedness within Europe as a whole isalso very appealing coming from a country where the only border you share is with the United States. Going to Finland is a day trip now which I have been lucky enough to enjoy. I’ve also traveled to Narva and Tartu and had the chance to travel outside of the cities to explore the countryside. Overall, it reminds me of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario where I grew up. In that sense, it feels right at home but I haven’t experienced an Estonian winter yet, so we'll see if my opinion changes in the spring when we have thawed out.
4) How do you understand Estonian people? How do we seem to you?
I think everyone who comes to Estonia gets the warning that Estonians can be a little bit cold and hard to get to know. Back in Canada, it’s not uncommon to smile at a stranger walking by and simply say hi. Whether you know them or not is just kind of engrained in the fabric that it's just second nature. Overall, I have found Estonians to be friendly and very helpful. I’m sure I stick out like a tourist when I go to the grocery store or to a restaurant, but I appreciate the staff’s willingness to listen to me butcher their language trying to learn Estonian. I have had the opportunity to meet some of the locals both through the university or outside events. I know some Estonians on a more in-depth level now and they are very friendly, welcoming and helpful so I appreciate that. I can remember a lady at the grocery store trying to help me with how to buy from the buffet because I was completely lost as to how to pay for it. She managed to direct me where to go and I learned the word for cash register in the process. Obviously, there are differences between the cultures that are influenced by our different histories but I think at the end of the day that most people are good and my experiences within the country have been enjoyable.
5) Is nature very different compared to your home country?
I think that the countries are very similar; lots of the same types of trees, rural areas with lakes, woodlands etc. Obviously, there is a little bit of difference when it comes to the size of the countries. Canada is a huge country so there is a significant difference in the type of geography as you move across the country. Mountains on the west coast, flatlands in the prairies (where you can see your dog run away for 3 days), woodlands and lakes of northern Ontario and Quebec and then the coasts and raging waves of Eastern Canada. Where I have lived in Thunder Bay and Orillia, I would say that it is very similar to Estonia. Lots of areas where there aren’t that many people and there are more moose and lakes than humans. One thing I noticed is that we don’t have as many bogs though that you can access and travel through. It's always interesting to walk through the bogs on the planks wondering who is going to be the first person to get pushed in.
From what I know but haven’t experienced we are very similar when it comes to the winter darkness and climates. As soon as October hits, you start noticing that going to work it's dark and when you go home it's dark. With being a northern country there is the cold and the snow that comes with winter. I know from researching Estonia the average temperature in winter was supposed to be -5°C which for me coming from Canada is almost shorts weather. Of course it will get colder but if I don’t have to deal with -52°C or three weeks of -40°C in January/February then I think it will be an improvement. I think overall it's very similar; so it's very much like being at home. Although I will take advantage of the cheaper flights and enjoy the warmth of southern Eruope sometime in January.
6) You have been in Estonia only a few weeks but how much do you know about the Estonian law enforcement? Is it different compared to your country?
My knowledge of the Estonian police is limited at this point but from what I know the differences are significant. The main goal of addressing crime and protecting the population stays the same regardless of country. The Estonian policing system is very centralized in the Police and Border Guard when compared to the Canadian system. Canada has divided its system by municipal (city), provincial and federal. Municipal police services are responsible for the city they are hired by. When I worked in the Barrie Police Service, the service was responsible for the City of Barrie, Ontario but also the courthouses within the city. In Canada, some provinces (states) have their own police service and others contract out the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ontario, which is where I live, has the Ontario Provincial Police which is responsible for small cities (without their own service) and the rest of the province. One additional caveat is that there are First Nations policing organizations. In Northern Ontario for example there is the Nishnawbe Aski Police which is responsible for a landmass larger than Estonia made up of First Nations communities many of which are only accessible by boat or plane. At a federal level we have the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Mounties as they affectionately known) which are responsible for policing across Canada; they do larger investigations including both international and interprovincial investigations. The RCMP does policing for provinces and some cities where there is no provincial police service. When it comes to immigration or the border that is managed by CBSA or Canadian Border Service Agency. In Estonia, there are approximately 5,000 people working for the Police and Border Guard while in Canada there were 70,500 sworn police officers.
When this comes out it will be the first anniversary of the deaths of South Simcoe Police Service officers Cst. Devon Northrup and Cst. Morgan Russell. My thoughts are with my friends and colleagues who responded to the call, the South Simcoe officers, dispatch and other emergency services who attended that night.
7) Are you happy with your studies in Estonia so far?
Yeah, I am happy with my studies so far. I haven’t been in school full time for five years now so there is a little bit of a change in that regard. The system here is different to the way things are run in Canada. One of the biggest things that is different is the exam structure and having the second opportunity to do an exam. In Ontario, you have a three-week period where you have your final exams and that is it. So, you could have 4-5 exams or more in that timeframe and when that’s done: it's done. Your mark and whether you pass or fail the course is determined in that time frame. Your marks for tests, exams, assignments etc. help to determine that going into the examination timeframe but it's 3 weeks of studying and work and it's over. It's an interesting concept to me to have that opportunity to do the exam a second time if something were to happen whether it be illness, emergency etc. I’m hoping to take full advantage of that second break by being back in Canada visiting friends and family for a bit and then hopefully traveling somewhere warm. Overall, it’s been a good change, I’ve had to qualify some things through the locals who have a better understanding of the system but it’s a new experience and another new opportunity to learn.
8) After studying law, what are your future plans in your home country?
Right now, my plans are a little bit up in the air; I am trying to take full advantage of the opportunity I have at present. I would love to go back to Canada and work in criminal prosecution. It would be the next stage in my career to continue with the work I was doing with the Barrie Police but from the other side of the bench. We had a running joke when I was getting ready to leave that I would go to the callbox at the Barrie courthouse and be working as a duty counsel (public defender). I would also be happy to work in a government role working to develop the regulations necessary to safeguard Canadians in the use of different technologies like facial recognition, artificial intelligence etc. I am not set on the idea of returning to Canada though if there is a potential opportunity for me here. I would also be comfortable with the idea of continuing to my master’s degree to be able to work in the European Union. That was a long and convoluted way to say I don’t have any set plans, but I am going to try and keep all my options open. So, at this time in 5 years, I could be back in Canada, in Estonia or somewhere else. Which is a very exciting proposition to me to have so many options for the future.
9) How valued is the law education and profession of a lawyer in Canada?
There is a bit of a joke that no one likes lawyers until you need one; and when you need one it's going to be $500 an hour. In all seriousness the law profession is taken very seriously. People know how challenging it is to go to law school and to compete in that field. It can be a very cutthroat field of employment but that it has a lot of intrinsic value. A lot of prominent members in Canadian history have been lawyers in their previous careers. I think that there is value in education, the job and it has a lot of potential for making positive impacts on society as a whole. We feel the impacts of the law profession every day from court rulings that impact our rights and freedoms, government regulations and much more. It's likely not top of mind for people day to day but its impacts are felt regardless.
10) Have you already invited family members to visit you?
We haven’t worked out the logistics of it yet, but they might come at the end of the first year to visit. It’s a casual 6,600 km from Thunder Bay to Tallinn so it’s a bit of a challenge to get over here. My parents are considering coming to visit as part of a larger trip to Europe since my mother hasn’t ever been and my dad has only been to Germany. At a minimum I think they will make the trip to see Tallinn University and the city at my graduation. One way or the other they will get the passport stamp for visiting Estonia.