Coast-to-Coast Legal Fights for TWU This Summer

TWU President Bob Kuhn. Photo: twu.ca

TWU President Bob Kuhn. Photo: twu.ca

Trinity Western University (TWU)’s efforts to have its planned law school accredited with law societies continue, with a significant vote today.

Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) benchers are to vote on a motion to reverse that law society’s approval. Members from across the province will meet by teleconference to consider a resolution directing that “Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law.”

The university continues to push back against law societies across Canada, over accreditation.

The Langley B.C. faith-based school will appear before a judge in Halifax on July 3. Its lawyers will ask for a date and time for a judicial review hearing.

TWU alleges the Nova Scotia Barrister Society’s April 25 resolution against accrediting TWU law grads to article in that province “infringes the charter rights of TWU” and gives “extraterritorial effect to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.”

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.

TWU is moving ahead with plans to open a law school in 2016. Students come to the Christian liberal arts school from across North America and overseas, TWU noted in its presentation to the Law Society of Upper Canada in April.

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?

In the Public Interest

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.

Uneven Decision-Making & Processes

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.

Unlike the LSUC, the Newfoundland society has signed-on to national agreements that control inter-jurisdictional mobility. From the LSNL website:

    “Benchers must decide whether graduates of TWU can have the requisite character and fitness to practice law in Newfoundland and Labrador and whether that determination can be made solely on the basis of their beliefs. Benchers must do so with the knowledge that, as a result of the National Mobility Agreement and the Agreement on Internal Trade (enacted by the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act S.C. 1996, c. 17), graduates of TWU’s law school program will, if already admitted to the bar of another law society, be able to practice in Newfoundland and Labrador in accordance with our mobility Rules.”

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.

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education have approved the proposed law school. However, 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.

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