Faith-Based Law School Accredited for N.B.

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The New Brunswick Law Society (LSNB) has voted to accredit a controversial law school proposed in B.C.

The New Brunswick lawyers voted 14 to 5 on Friday to accredit graduates of Trinity Western University (TWU)’s proposed law school to practice in the province. LSNB received 96 written submissions for its June 27 meeting.

“The council always will recognize both religious freedoms and the right to sexual orientation without discrimination,” John Malone, LSNB president, said after the decision. “No matter which law school they graduate from, all articled students complete Law Society training and evaluation. This includes the core aspects of professional responsibility, including non-discrimination.”

‘Democracy,’ Not Discrimination

In a statement after the decision, TWU president Bob Kuhn said “Evangelical Christianity is an important part of the Canadian cultural mosaic” and that “In a free and democratic society the faith of TWU graduates cannot preclude them from practicing law.”

The Langley, B.C. faith-based school has its students sign a controversial “community covenant” related to sexual and other behaviour.

That covenant is being challenged in court cases across the country; TWU is challenging decisions made by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and the Nova Scotia Barrister Society, not to accredit the school if the covenant stands.

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.

Accreditation Decisions Differ

A group that represents gay and lesbian students in New Brunswick sees the accreditation decision as a backward step. Ted Flett told CBC that “A covenant by a university that discriminates against gays and lesbians and does not allow them to be their authentic self — that crosses the line of appropriate conduct.”

In April, LSUC voted 28–21 against accrediting TWU School of Law graduates to article or practise in Ontario.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, P.E.I., and Nunavut law societies have voted in favour of accreditation. Federation of Law Societies of Canada gave its preliminary approval last year. The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and the law society in Manitoba have deferred their accreditation decisions.

Symbolic Motions, Deferrals

The B.C. Law Society voted in favour of accreditation, but a large majority of lawyers in the province voted in June to rescind that decision. The resolution directing that “Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law” is largely symbolic.

In Newfoundland, 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.

Past-LSUC Treasurer Tom Conway, who oversaw two days of public debate on TWU accreditation, told SCOPE that he expects the issue to be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Trinity Western’s School of Law is moving forward with plans to open the first faith-based law school in Canada in 2016.

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