Law Society of B.C. directors voted 20-6 today to recognize Trinity Western University’s planned faith-based law school.
Opponents argued the Langley university’s community covenant prohibiting “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation against gay and lesbian law students and faculty.
“In my opinion, Trinity Western University’s community covenant is an anachronism and a throwback that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1960s,” said lawyer Cameron Ward, one of the society’s directors who voted for a motion to deny accreditation to TWU.
The law school already has approval from the provincial government to open but the law society controls who can practise as a lawyer in B.C.
Several law society directors, known as benchers, said they could not justify rejecting TWU’s grads, citing a 2001 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of Trinity on religious freedom.
Miriam Kresivo, one of the society’s benchers, said she doesn’t believe the society can bar TWU “even though the covenant may be abhorrent to me.”
Others said the law society cannot presume in advance that TWU grads would act contrary to the standards of the legal profession.
“The Law Society of B.C is not a belief regulator, we are a conduct regulator,” Kamloops lawyer Ken Walker said.
“We must not trample on the rights of one group of society to satisfy the rights of another,” added bencher Claude Richmond, who also voted against the motion to deny TWU accreditation.
Some benchers who voted with the majority noted the law society could review and revoke TWU accreditation in future if it had grounds to do so.
Victoria lawyer Pinder Cheema was one of the benchers who urged TWU to revise its covenant, predicting its “offensive reputation” will otherwise follow the law school’s grads into practice.
TWU president Bob Kuhn said the decision clears the way for the new law school, which is on track to open in the fall of 2016.
“This is also an important decision for all Canadians,” Kuhn said. “It says that there is room in a democratic country like Canada for a law school at a Christian university.”