The governing board of the Law Society of British Columbia decided last week not to admit graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, reversing an earlier decision to accept the alumni. The about-face came after the society’s member attorneys voted overwhelmingly to shut out the Christian school’s graduates.
Trinity Western spokesman Guy Saffold said the university is “disappointed” in the decision but it does not end plans for the law school. “The process for the TWU School of Law is ongoing,” he said. “We will take some time to review our course of action in British Columbia.”
Trinity Western University (TWU), located in Langley, B.C., a small municipality in metro Vancouver, is Canada’s largest Christian university. The 50-year-old school enrolls more than 4,000 students annually and requires all students and staff to sign a covenant outlining expected conduct, including a promise not to drink alcohol, avoid gossip and profanity, and abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
In 2012, TWU announced it planned to open a law school. The Canadian Bar Association and The Council of Canadian Law Deans opposed the program’s accreditation, claiming the school’s belief in traditional marriage made it incapable of training students to uphold Canadian law, particularly since same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005.
But in December 2013, TWU gained preliminary federal accreditation when the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada approved the creation of Canada’s first Christian law school, citing “no public interest reason” not to do so. But each province still has to grant graduates membership into its respective bar association. Opponents started a campaign to convince provinces not to accept TWU law school graduates. The strategy has had mixed results.
Law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut voted to recognize the school’s graduates. Manitoba and Saskatchewan put the decision on hold, and Ontario and Nova Scotia decided not to accept the graduates. TWU promptly filed lawsuits against the two societies that denied membership. Judicial reviews are scheduled for December.
Approval in British Columbia is particularly important, because of the school’s location in the province. Trinity Western has already security mobility agreements with other provinces, meaning law graduates could be licensed in British Columbia and then relocate elsewhere.
The B.C. law society’s governing board, called “benchers,” voted 20-4 to accept TWU graduates last spring. But attorneys opposed to TWU’s accreditation organized a member meeting in June, where those in attendance voted 3,210 to 968 in favor of a motion asking the benchers to reverse their decision. On Sept. 26, the benchers decided to hold an unprecedented referendum asking all the society’s 13,530 members to vote on the issue. The benchers promised the vote would be binding if at least one-third of the members voted, and two-thirds of them voted not to accept the graduates.
The society disclosed on Oct. 30 that almost 59 percent of the association’s attorneys participated in the mail-in vote, with 5,951 attorneys (74 percent) voting in favor and 2,088 (26 percent) voting against a resolution “declaring that the proposed law school at Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law for the purpose of the Law Society’s admission program.” The next day, the benchers announced they would not admit graduates of TWU into the society.
As school officials head to court, they have legal precedent on their side: In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of TWU when the British Columbia College of Teachers tried to withhold accreditation for the school’s new teacher education program for the same reason: the school’s endorsement of traditional marriage.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: November 11, 2014