Education is a lifelong process, but with limited bandwidth and time, we must wisely choose what we fill our brains (and lives) with. Two high school teaching moments that remain ingrained in my brain reflect the physical and moral fragility of humanity.
With respect to our physical frailties (and perhaps why I did not pursue a driver’s license until my 20s) was a classroom video of what happens to you when you don’t wear your seatbelt and are in a motor vehicle accident. They did not have a seatbelt law in Alberta at that time (that was not until 1987) and I have never needed a seatbelt law to want to wear mine. As a lawyer whose clients include those injured in motor vehicle accidents, I am continually reminded of the difference seatbelts can make. But common sense is not universal and that is when the rule of law comes into play.
As for our moral fragility, I can vividly recall where I was sitting in class, and can still view regularly in my memory, the black and white videos showing stacked starved bodies and heavy equipment being used to clear the bodies into open pits. These were some of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
That some people are evil did not surprise me by that age unfortunately, but that so many people allowed this atrocity to happen over such a short period of time was traumatizing. Many of us wonder, who would I be in Nazi Germany? I thought people would have feared for their lives so may have fell in line for that reason, it is hard to be courageous. I recently watched some interviews on YouTube and the compliant included those that just wanted to fit in. In this case, the rule of law was used by the Nazis to turn human beings into “the other”. Jewish citizens had to report and be reported and were slowly excluded from daily life and all rights, including ultimately, their right to live.
I am writing from Amsterdam this week (advantages of a practice in the cloud and that my livelihood is not to e.g. construct highways; flip side, leaving the work behind is not as easy). I just visited the Anne Frank Huis (House). It is still in virtually the same condition. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank has sold more than 35 million copies. It has been translated into many languages and has had many theatre and movie renditions, this personal story is as powerful as the videos. My daughter, not much older than Anne, and I walked through the factory and into the secret annex where Anne and her father, mother and older sister Margot and four others hid for over two years before their lives ended (except for Anne’s father Otto) at extermination camps. The museum not only featured the Franks but also the crucial allies that took daily risks to make their survival possible. It was refreshing to see those that did not allow the Franks to become “others”.
While busy telling us the history of the Holocaust, our school system and everywhere else I received my education failed to mention that the rule of law was also used right here in Alberta to effect some atrocities. My first experience was when I first moved to Red Deer a quarter of a century ago and was involved in a forced sterilization case (the victim was only 12, legislation repealed by the Progressive Conservative government in 1972 after 2,834 were carried out). The residential schools and their legacy are also among some of the most shocking examples. The numbers are still unknown. We continue to learn new details and have access some of this information. We all have a duty as citizens to ensure an end to systemic discrimination. We need to take positive action and be accountable to ourselves and each other. Be an ally and surround yourself with them as we are all in this together.
Donna Purcell, K.C., (aka Lady Justice) is a Central Alberta lawyer and Chief Innovation Officer with Donna Purcell QC Law. If you have legal questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.