Lawyers in British Columbia have overwhelmingly voted against accreditation for Trinity Western University’s proposed faith-based law school.
Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) lawyers voted on Tuesday in a special general meeting. Members met in cities across the province, listened to hundreds of speakers and voted on the resolution directing that “Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law.”
The vote was 3,210 in favour and 968 opposed. The decision is largely symbolic for the LSBC’s 11,000 members.
LSBC president Jan Lindsay noted that the decision is not binding on benchers. “The decision regarding whether to admit graduates from the proposed law school at TWU is a Bencher decision,” she said. “However, the Benchers will give the result of today’s members meeting serious and thoughtful consideration.”
Moving Forward on Legal Issues
The TWU battle for accreditation continues before law societies and the courts, across Canada. President Bob Kuhn says the school will proceed with its plans to open a law school in 2016.
“It’s not whether it’s a popular decision or whether it’s politically correct, the issue is whether it’s legally correct,” Kuhn said after the B.C. vote.
The Langley B.C. faith-based school will appear before a Halifax judge on July 3. Its lawyers will ask for a date and time for a judicial review hearing. Nova Scotia Barrister Society’s April 25 resolution against accreditation unless the covenant wording changes. TWU alleges that “infringes the charter rights of TWU” and gives “extraterritorial effect to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.”
On April 14, a petitioner represented by Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby (an ex-officio LSUC bencher) commenced a lawsuit against the B.C. Education Ministry, to challenge the B.C. government’s approval.
Mobility & Other Competing Rights
Since late last year, TWU accreditation requests have been dealt with differently, and with varying outcomes, by law societies across the country. Accreditation means that a law school’s grads are able to be licensed to practise law in a province.
The crux of the debate, and the focus of the legal, moral and public interest choices around accreditation, is this: If a school’s protected religious rights infringe on a student’s protected human rights, should that school be accredited by an organization whose members are sworn to uphold human rights?
‘Between a Man and a Woman’
Trinity Western University (TWU) has its students sign a “community covenant.” Under the covenant, students are to report themselves and others who do not abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
From the TWU point of view, the school is under pressure to remove those six little words from its “community covenant,” or have its law students disadvantaged by not being able to be licensed in Ontario. TWU President Bob Kuhn has said “Evangelical Christians are a minority” and that millions of Christians are paying attention to this decision.
Trending and Pending
Michael Mulligan, a Victoria lawyer, got the ball rolling on the special meeting back in April, as the LSUC benchers were in their second day of debate over the TWU issue. As in Ontario, the school’s accreditation request attracted unprecedented attention from both licensees and the public in B.C.
“TWU is seeking our stamp of approval for a notional discriminatory banner to be hung on a new law school,” Mulligan told lawyers at the special meeting. “Let’s refuse to approve what we know is wrong in our time.”
#TWUVote was trending June 10, and tweets spoke of lawyers walking in droves through downtown Vancouver to the voting location.
In April, LSUC voted 28–21 against accrediting TWU School of Law graduates to article or practise in Ontario.
B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, P.E.I., and Nunavut law societies have voted in favour of accreditation.
The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador was to vote June 6 on TWU accreditation. The LSNL has no information about the debate or result at its website, but observers have said the benchers deferred the matter.
The LSNL had said that it considers accreditation to be a moot question. “No public interest reason to exclude future graduates of TWU’s law school program from admission to provincial bar admission programs,” its Approval Committee found.
Deciding Not to Decide — Yet
Unlike the LSUC, the Newfoundland society has signed-on to national agreements that control inter-jurisdictional mobility. From the LSNL website:
Deferral was the option chosen by the Law Society of Manitoba (LSOM) last month. LSOM decided to “monitor processes and decisions in other jurisdictions,” and await a possible national requirements review, before discussing TWU accreditation.
Meanwhile, the Law Society of New Brunswick is to vote June 27.