Discrimination or Religious Freedom? LSUC Debates TWU

TWU’s Janet Epp-Buckingham. Photo: Legal Feeds

Should a law school that prohibits homosexual behaviour be accredited by the law society in Ontario?

That issue is on the minds of many, as the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) readies to debate the issue this month. April 10 and 24, Convocation will meet to determine the accreditation of Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school program. No vote will be taken at the April 10 meeting; the vote is April 24.

TWU has received conditional approval for its proposed program from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s Approval Committee. The British Columbia government has also approved the TWU application.

Under Law Society By-law 4, the Law Society must consider and decide on the accreditation of TWU with respect to graduates of TWU who may practise law in Ontario.

The question before Convocation is:

Given that the Federation Approval Committee has provided conditional approval to the TWU law program in accordance with processes Convocation approved in 2010 respecting the national requirement and in 2011 respecting the approval of law school academic requirements, should the Law Society of Upper Canada now accredit TWU pursuant to section 7 of By-Law 4?

Written Submissions Include TWU

Among more than 100 submissions on the issue of whether should accredit Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, the controversial university has added its voice.

In a 40-page submission to the Law Society, TWU says there is no real public interest in rejecting its bid to launch a law school that includes a student “covenant” provision on abstaining from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The LSUC’s mandate is to ensure law school graduates will meet its standard of learning, competence, and professional conduct, TWU’s submission notes. The university says there is no evidence that TWU graduates would fall short of that standard because of the university’s religious focus.

“The skill of critical thinking about ethical issues can be taught at TWU regardless of its religious nature,” Trinity’s submission states. “The contrary proposition is extremely offensive to all faith adherents, especially parents and teachers. A contrary conclusion is not tenable as it rests on presumption and assumptions, not evidence.”

‘Not Imposing Beliefs’

TWU and its members are only asking they be afforded the same right to religion that every Canadian is entitled to, the university says in its submission, noting “diversity is not achieved by excluding the one and only private faith-based law school in Canada (among 18 other non-faith-based law schools) because of its religious beliefs.”

According to the submission, the Langley, B.C.,-based university doesn’t wish to impose its beliefs on others who don’t subscribe to them.

“TWU acknowledges that not all people believe in the Bible or the person, works and teachings of Jesus Christ — but as a religious community, TWU, its faculty and staff do,” the submission reads. “TWU (and its graduates) do not seek to impose their own beliefs upon others, but instead to enjoy the constitutionally protected freedom to exercise those beliefs within a religious educational community.”

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) has considered all the concerns brought by other submissions to the law society, and gave a conditional approval to the law school. Four provinces have accepted the federation’s approval for the law school. Denying TWU accreditation would create a “patchwork system” in which TWU graduates could practise law in one province but not in another, the school added.

Two Convocations for Public Deliberations

An extraordinary amount of attention is being given the TWU issue. Both Convocations will be held entirely in public, will be webcast, and the proceedings will be transcribed and made available to the public. 

Treasurer Tom Conway said in a special statement: “In making its decision on the accreditation of TWU Convocation is sitting in its deliberative capacity, rather than addressing a question of policy.”

Conway states: “I have determined that only Convocation should consider and decide the accreditation of TWU. The matter will not be referred to a committee or committees for review or consideration prior to Convocation. As I have said previously, when making the decision on accreditation the Law Society is making an administrative decision that affects rights, privileges and interests. Convocation as a whole is vested with this decision-making power.”

The Law Society invited submissions on TWU accreditation earlier this year. Most submissions from lawyers, legal associations, law firms and legal services providers have urged the law society not to accredit the the proposed school because its “covenant” results in  overt and systemic discrimination.

Organizations urging the Law Society to reject the accreditation application include: the Ontario Bar Association (OBA); Criminal Lawyers’ Association; Hamilton Community Legal Clinic; Queen’s, Ottawa and Windsor Universities Faculties of Law; Canadian Defence Lawyers; and Law Student Governments.

Accreditation Provisions Questioned

TWU’s submission suggests that the school is not certain what criteria the law society is using to approve it or not.

“TWU has never been advised of the grounds and considerations that Convocation considers most relevant to its determination of accreditation,” the submission notes. “The voluminous submissions from third parties, which may well include references to issues Convocation considers most relevant, also include many irrelevant documents.”

A separate recommendation for LSUC consideration is that a non-discrimination provision be added to the National Requirement for accreditation.

The five paralegal benchers may take part in the discussions and decision.

Background Information:

Treasurer Conway’s Remarks

LSUC Trinity Western University Information

‘Six Little Words’ Derail TWU in Close Vote, April 24

 

3 comments

  1. Angela Browne · · Reply

    My question is just how are they going to enforce this particular covenant? Will they sneak cameras into the bedrooms at student residences and at their off campus homes to watch to see if there is any “contravening” activity? I would argue this is in itself a breach of student and faculty privacy. If you think back to your own college and/or university days, if you were dating, I am sure most of us did not avoid intimate relations with the other, as sex before marriage is as common as hydrogen in the environment.

    While this does apply to unmarried heterosexual and LGBTQ individuals alike, it does discriminate against married LGBTQ individuals. Ironically, among couples getting married these days, the numbers among LGBTQ folks are on the increase! The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our various human rights codes do avail the availability and freedom for one to marry any adult person, regardless of gender. I would be curious as to how these specific Charter arguments would be taught, such as M v H (validating equivalent support obligations under a same sex common law relationship), Vriend (denial of employment of an LGBTQ individual in a Christian college in Alberta), the Brockie decision (a specific human rights case upheld by the courts regarding denial of service by a printing company to an LGBTQ group), and Christian Horizons (where a woman was dismissed for being “out” as a lesbian). Freedom of religion is only a part of the spectrum. Is this school going to graduate a generation of lawyers that will utilize the Bible as arguments to try to change our legal and social landscape backwards?

    We don’t have that far to see other than the U.S., where attempts to overturn Roe versus Wade continue to this day (re abortion rights). I think and I am probably ageing myself by recalling the successful fight of the Bible thumpers south of us to defeat what was then the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. Phyllis Schafley was among them, as well as many female lawyers, likely trained in the Biblical abyss of similar universities in the States. What I am saying here is that these things can move beyond the internal functioning of this particular institution and produce some very backward thinking people who will fight against human rights considerations for many of our minorities, even women (as women are not viewed as equal to men in the fundamentalist traditional sense). and take our rights backwards.

    I am very sensitive to human rights issues and know that any victories that have been won under the Charter were hard fought and with the right circumstances, can be undone. I know this as some issues regarding disability were clearly forward thinking, while some other cases made it more difficult to claim discrimination under some circumstances. Don’t kid yourself … there ARE and ALWAYS will be dinosaurs in any profession, including the legal profession. I would want to ensure that at least we would be living under the same rights under the Charter, which would to me also include my right to non belief in any religious denomination.

  2. Linda Schmidt · · Reply

    Considering all laws have to be able to bounce off the Charter and come out free of discrimination, how do they (TWU) teach the Charter? I gather a Christian couple, that are married, and gay and enrolled could not be intimate with each other, or by the very existence of their marriage could not be enrolled. It is not a message only about pre-marital sex, it is a message about marriage between a man and a woman being the only acceptable marriage. That being said, other colleges and universities have staff that believe as Trinity Western, and yet they are able to teach the law. It’s an intriguing question, the debate for which should prove very educational.

  3. I am sorry, but I find your article on Trinity Western Law School miss leading. Having only read the article in and of its self I find your opening statements miss leading with your statements on what the school is saying.
    There is nothing in the school’s stance according to your article about homosexuality. What they are say according to your article applies to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Therefore, there is no discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation.
    My understanding from your article is simply the school saying, if you are not married then do not practice sex while a student here.
    So please advise me if I am wrong – what is wrong with their stance? All the students know that they are a faith based school, and if sexual freedom is important to them, then they have the option to go else where.
    It appears to me, to be a case of the school being asked to sacrifice their morals and ethics on the alter of apparent political righteousness by someone with a political agenda (and there in lies the violation of of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms).
    My question is what sort of Lawyers & Paralegals are we going to get from a school that has no morals and ethics?
    A question we should all be asking in a day and age of scandals in our Government and Courts.

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