The black-robed lawyer paces as he cross-examines the wide-eyed young woman, resplendent in royal blue satin gown and elbow-length evening gloves, a glittering tiara sitting on top of her swirl of blonde hair.
“Now isn’t it true that you didn’t ever complain about the work your stepmother asked you to do? That you actually learned valuable skills from all that cooking and cleaning? And perhaps you’d be so good as to tell the court about your present circumstances?”
“Oh, I live in a castle with my one true love, Prince Charming,” offers the woman, beaming.
“Then why are you here today, asking your loving stepmother and stepsisters to compensate you for work from which you’ve obviously profited?”
Pop music suddenly fills the courtroom. The young woman moves out of the witness box and belts out “Pay Me, OK?”, set to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” as her stepsisters look on in disgust and disbelief.
So begins Cinderella vs. Lady Tremayne et al., the first of several mock trials at the Edmonton iteration of Alberta Law Day. Every April, in cities throughout Canada, the general public is invited to visit their local law courts to celebrate democracy and the 1982 signing of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Displays, talks, tours, and mock trials are designed to help people learn more about the law, lawyers, and the judicial process.
Cinderella’s trial is especially popular with families, whose children are well-familiar with her story and the characters who impacted her life. They watch in fascination as the evil stepsisters, Lady Tremayne, and her evil cat, Lucifer, listen to the evidence against them, and giggle delightedly through Gus Gus the mouse’s testimony.
When Lady Tremayne takes the stand, we find out that she not only worked Cinderella remorselessly, but also falsified Cinderella’s father’s will so that all of his wealth would find its way to her and her daughters. How has Cinderella’s lawyer deduced this? The will that Lady Tremayne produced has all its “i”s dotted with a heart, in the same way that the letters appear on Cinderella’s demanding work schedule. The original will did not.
Lady Tremayne is also questioned about her failure to send Cinderella to school. “Oh, but I home schooled her,” she says, smugly.
“And did you follow the standard Alberta education curriculum?” the lawyer probes.
Lady Tremayne sniffs in disgust. “I don’t believe in following any standardized curriculum. The education I gave Cinderella allowed her to graduate from the School of Hard Knocks, the University of Life!”
“Neither of which are degree-granting institutions,” observes the lawyer. “No more questions, Your Honor.”
Lady Tremayne makes one last effort to clear her name. With her own rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” she tries to get Cinderella and her lawyer to grant her “one more shot at forgiveness.”
But it’s too little too late. When the judge asks us to return our verdict with our applause, we decide in favor of Cinderella.
As moms and dads gather up kids and coats, and little girls pose shyly with Cinderella, I hear lots of children of all ages ask “What are we going to do next?” There is already a lineup for the next trial, and crowds around the booths downstairs.
It’s thrilling to see the imposing Edmonton Courthouse taking on the role of educational institution. The lessons I received in school about Alberta’s legal system were delivered via droning lecture in a traditional classroom. But the organizers of Alberta Law Day saw the potential for a more innovative teaching approach. Kudos to them, and to everyone who gave up their Saturday to inspire kids and their parents to learn about the law.