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.
Treasurer Conway’s Remarks
LSUC Trinity Western University Information
‘Six Little Words’ Derail TWU in Close Vote, April 24