No Faith-Based Law School Accreditation: N.B. Lawyers

Michael Murphy, former N.B. Justice Minister - cbc.ca

Michael Murphy, former N.B. Justice Minister – cbc.ca

Lawyers in New Brunswick have voted 137-30 in favour of a resolution to reverse accreditation for a proposed faith-based law school.

Saturday’s vote makes the Atlantic province the latest to oppose allowing the controversial law program’s graduates to practice in its jurisdiction. British Columbia lawyers in June overwhelmingly approved a non-binding motion to reverse Trinity Western University’s (TWU) accreditation there.

“Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law.”

~ Law Society of British Columbia Members

More than 200 LSNB members, including four former justice ministers, had signed a petition asking for Saturday’s special meeting. The New Brunswick law society had said it will seek a legal opinion on the resolution, which will be brought to the next council meeting, Sept. 26. If the resolution is adopted, students from the university will not be eligible for admission to the bar in New Brunswick.

Trinity Western is a Langley, B.C. post-secondary school. It maintains “an underlying philosophy and viewpoint that is Christian,” according to its material. Trinity has its students sign a “community covenant” related to sexual orientation and other behaviour. Students and staff vow to endorse strict interpretations of marriage as “between a man and a woman.”

The crux of the legal, moral and public interest choices around TWU accreditation, is this: If a school’s protected religious rights infringe on a student’s sexual orientation rights, should that school be accredited by an organization whose members are sworn to uphold human rights?

TWU is challenging decisions made by the LSUC and the Nova Scotia Barrister Society, not to accredit the school if the covenant stands. Alberta, Saskatchewan, P.E.I., and Nunavut law societies have voted in favour of accreditation. Newfoundland and Labrador, and Manitoba, have chosen to defer the issue. The B.C. Law Society voted in favour of accreditation, but a large majority of lawyers in the province overwhelmingly approved a special resolution directing that: “Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law.” That vote is symbolic and does not reverse the law society’s decision.

After the Law Society of Upper Canada decision not to accredit TWU graduates for licensing in Ontario, the school filed a Judicial Review challenge. Trinity Western University and Brayden Volkenant v. Law Society of Upper Canada is set to be heard Dec. 15-19 in Divisional Court at Osgoode Hall, Toronto.

TWU President Bob Kuhn has said the school plans to open its law program in 2016.

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