Why I’m Flipping my Wig!

I have the pleasure this year to be one of the Flip Your Wig Ambassadors. If you haven’t heard, Flip Your Wig is a campaign now underway to raise awareness and resources about access to justice. At the launch of the campaign held earlier in January at the Law Society of Upper Canada, I mentioned the story of Zahra Abdille, the public health nurse killed with her two children in November 2014 in an instance of suspected domestic violence. Abdille was reported to have sought but been unable to obtain legal assistance – an all too common experience for women caught up in domestic disputes.

I referred to this story at the Flip Your Wig event as a “silent tragedy”. We cannot see what is not in front of us and cannot hear voices that are silenced. The organizations who have come together to bring the Flip Your Wig campaign to life – the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC), the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO), METRAC Action on Violence, Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), and Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) — all are dedicated to addressing the gaps in our justice system through which the people who need it most might fall. They do this in different ways. For example, METRAC may advocate for services and preventive policies focused on domestic violence while OJEN tries to ensure there is a next generation of leaders who are knowledgeable about and committed to improving the justice system.

These organizations all shared the goal of advancing the public interest goals of the justice system. The Flip Your Wig campaign is a way of expressing the broader community’s support for these goals and also a mechanism for raising awareness and exploring the causes and consequences of the access to justice crisis in which we are in the midst. For example, my hope is that what starts with a wig and a selfie can land with more attention focused on Julie Macfarlane’s National Self-Represented Litigant project or Trevor Farrow’s Cost of Justice project or the Middle Income Access to Justice project or the National Action Committee’s Report on Access to Civil and Family Justice – and most importantly, the ways in which public interest legal organizations like the ones mentioned above have become – and can be even more so – incubators of innovation.

I finished my remarks at the Flip Your Wig launch by explaining why I am keen to serve as one of this year’s Ambassadors. I said at the time, “For me, being an ambassador is trying to walk that fine line between the fun, the sense of community, the sense of shared enterprise and the sense of outrage, the sense of wanting there to be not another tragedy that we can tie in any way to a preventable incidence of access to justice that hasn’t occurred and that ought to have occurred.”

Some find the image of well-heeled lawyers donning wigs for access to justice as a flippant or cynical exercise. Some see it as a reflection of commitment and willingness to move out of one’s comfort zone, and to look at the realities around us in a different way. Others simply find it eye-catching, amusing or a little bizarre. If any of these reactions serves as a catalyst for discussion, or compels a tweet, a post, a reflection or a connection, then the campaign will be well on its way.

Kudo’s are due to the Law Foundation of Ontario not only for its support of each of the participating organizations but for this campaign itself, as a way of ensuring a more sustainable and successful foundation for public interest justice initiatives. Its work on rural and linguistic access to justice, resulting in articling fellowships and other initiatives remains a model of how to turn important ideas into more justice to more people in more underserved communities.

For all these reasons, I very much hope the Flip Your Wig campaign is an enduring success. Every single member of our community, whether a foundation or organization, sole practitioner, in hourse counsel or large firm lawyer, retired judge or law student, has something to give – time, thought, resources, voice – to this effort. Together, we can turn the aspirations of our justice system into the reality for all those who need it. To find out more, check out the Flip Your Wig site.