February 13th the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) held it’s first hearing, and the first provincial-level hearing on recognizing law degrees from Trinity Western University (TWU). Following the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s preliminary approval of the school and program, three Provincial Bar Societies have set in motion a series of hearings on the issue: Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and Ontario.
The committee heard from Professors Richard Devlin, Diane Pothier, Archie Kaiser, Jocelyn Downie, and Elaine Craig, as well as representatives from the provincial bar, student advocacy organisations, members of the clergy, and academics. A response is also expected from TWU on the matter by March 4th. The full NSBS report and decision will likely be released in April.
The vast majority of speakers on Thursday spoke against the Barristers’ Society recognizing TWU law degrees. Professor Richard Devlin of Dalhousie University said that “Freedom of religion is an important principle and practice … but what we have here is freedom of religion being used as a sword to discriminate, as a sword to exclude and as a sword to oppress certain members of society on the basis of sexual orientation.” (Chronicle Herald)
Advocacy in favour of recognizing the school was not absent. Several speakers acknowledged the importance of recognizing the school’s right to religious freedom and the religious freedom of its students, faculty, and staff. How to achieve a balance between guarding against discrimination and controlling or mandating religious, conscientious, or other beliefs and views is perplexing. The issue is one that has ignited debate over the level of regulation and control the law societies should exert over schools given high levels of enrolment and an unsteady market.