Lady Justice: Ideas In Action

Donna Purcell, K.C., “Lady Justice: Ideas in Action”, Red Deer Advocate (15 July 2022) 11.

As Albertans, we each have an origin story that defines, in part, who we become and how we see the world. I moved to Alberta with four siblings and my mother as a teenager. We were “fleeing” the French language laws imposed in Quebec as my mother realized that although she was fully bilingual (even working in a college setting assisting with translations at one point), we had grown up most recently on the West Island of Montreal (Beaconsfield) in an English-speaking suburb. Alberta was the land of opportunity and since my little brother’s Big Brother (an English golf pro) had to move and headed to Alberta, we followed. In 1995, as an adult, I moved to Red Deer to join my spouse who had moved here for a career opportunity. This is where we have raised our family, established our careers and volunteered.

I first chose a career as a lawyer in Grade 3, resulting from my belief in the need for the rule of law and access to justice and a strong belief that all humans are created equally. This decision was a result of my parents’ divorce and my no longer stay-at-home mother having to raise five children while working two full time jobs for a decade due to flawed systems and people. My mother could not afford access to justice and the system could not provide it but she had the courage to challenge the status quo and leave an untenable situation for the sake of her children.

Our family’s experience taught me the world will never change until those that raise our children have as much influence as exists in the world outside our homes. As Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian lawyer noted: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” 

Two decades ago, after a decade of practice, I found it was virtually impossible to balance career, community work and a family and decided to use my creativity and technology to create remote work capacity and “do it all”. My two daughters (one now in Harvard Law) were raised by a Black lawyer (their father), an Asian nanny and me.  Like many working mothers, I have basically worked three full time jobs for the past two decades by using technology and process improvement. These roles include parent, lawyer and community volunteer.

In March of 2020, the Courts in Alberta, Canada, virtually shut down as a result of the Pandemic, a global health crisis. I had already learned to be agile from simply trying to survive and thrive in a busy life generally, and as a result was able to pivot and take my skills to assist in the justice system, as it virtually shut down initially. By taking action, with various colleagues, we were able to assist the Bench and Bar with a remote questioning protocol adopted by the courts to allow civil proceedings to continue; a seven episode Survive and Thrive virtual litigation series to assisting colleagues in moving to remote practice; and held a virtual pro bono law fundraiser (Lawyers vs Talent) to raise funds for technology for pro bono legal services. I was recognized as one of the top five changemaker lawyers in Canada by Canadian Lawyer magazine.

The digital revolution is impacting all of our lives. Red Deer is building the Red Deer Justice Centre that is scheduled to open in 2024. It will be state of the art and provide Central Alberta with an opportunity to lead in the area of improving access to justice. I believe Central Alberta represents the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit in Alberta. Alberta is the economic engine of Canada and I truly believe diversification is upon us and that we can take our entrepreneurial spirits to continue to lead, including in access to justice.

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Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.