Today students at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law are among law students across the country voicing concern over Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school. Students at Dalhousie law have joined a letter writing campaign to influence the decision that the Federation of Law Societies must make to permit or bar TWU from opening a law school.
TWU, a faith-based university, submitted a proposal for accreditation to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in June 2012. The concern over TWU’s proposal centres on the school’s discriminatory policies towards LGBTQ individuals. To attend TWU students must sign a community covenant agreement requiring the student to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Students who do not comply with the covenant agreement may be removed from the university without readmission.
OUTLaw, a student group for LGBTQ individuals and those who support them at Dalhousie law, initiated a school wide discussion on TWU’s proposal last week. A town hall discussion was held and no clear consensus was reached among the student body. Many students supported speaking out against TWU’s proposal while others believed that the right to Freedom of Religion was at stake and that TWU’s proposal should be supported.
OUTLaw decided to draft a letter to be sent to the Federation of Law Societies on their behalf, inviting individual members of the student body to become signatories. The letter will be sent to the Federation of Law Societies today along with the letters of other law schools across the country. Signatories express that a future lawyers and officers of the court, they are committed to equality and promoting the values of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms within their own practices. They believe that their colleagues should be exposed to a learning environment that fosters the same.
The OUTLaw letter, drafted by third year law student Chelsey Roy, emphasizes the value of the town hall discussion that occurred at Dalhousie and how such a forum for debate, allowing for a diversity of opinions, may not be present at a TWU law school. Ms. Roy’s letter is copied, with permission, below.
“On March 5th, 2013, a Town Hall was held at the Schulich School of Law to discuss Trinity Western University’s proposal to create Canada’s next law school. At issue during the meeting were TWU’s discriminatory admissions and hiring policies, which include that no community member shall engage in sexual behaviour that violates the sacred bond of marriage between a man and a woman. The primary discussion point was whether an institution with such policies should educate students for the practice of law.
Those present at the meeting included gays and lesbians, who voiced concern not only about TWU’s policies, but also about the fact that another protected right –freedom of religion – could potentially be stifled by any action we might take. One Christian in the room shared with us his own faith-based educational background, and reminded us of the personal and voluntary choice an individual makes when agreeing to TWU’s community covenant, a choice that arguably should not be impeded. A number of straight people in attendance felt strongly that religion has no place in the teaching of law, and that TWU’s proposal should be opposed. Some felt that it would be best to live and let live.
In short, there was no obvious consensus at the Town Hall about whether or not we, as law students and future members of the legal profession, should take a stance on TWU’s proposed law school. What is obvious, though, is that the diversity of thought and opinion within the halls of the Schulich School of Law is great. What is also obvious, is that the respect we have for each other’s thoughts and opinionshere, no matter how divergent, is also great.
But perhaps the most obvious (and most important) thing is this: a Town Hall like the one held today would never happen at a TWU law school. Gays and lesbians would never sit in a classroom with Christians and Jews and atheists, challenging each other to take on new perspectives while encouraging respect and tolerance for everyone else’s, at a TWU law school. Whether or not those at TWU would want such a meeting to take place is irrelevant.
Whether or not they themselves discriminate in their daily lives is also irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that TWU’s policies simply would not allow for free, open, challenging, critical, respectful dialogue. What is the practice of law, if not all of those things? Does the rule of law not require that it be available freely and openly to all? Does the complexity of law not challenge us to be innovative and resourceful for our clients? Does the study of law not require us to think critically about difficult issues? Does our very own Constitution not require us to respect all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, or otherwise?If TWU is to be granted the privilege of opening Canada’s next law school, it should first ask itself if it is up to the challenge of having an open, honest, meaningful discussion about its policies and practices. If it finds itself unable to do so, then, in the words of its own student handbook, it “should seek a living-learning situation more acceptable to them”. “
** The information in this post is sourced from a press release sent to local news outlets and Ms. Roy’s letter, as well as my personal experience as a student at Dal law and my attendance at the town hall. **