Last week, the B.C. Law Society released the results of its referendum regarding whether to recognize graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. The law school was scheduled to open in the summer of 2016, however the recent vote by B.C. lawyers has cast doubt and uncertainty as to whether these plans will unfold as hoped by the Langley evangelical Christian school. Members of the province’s law society voted 5,951 to 2,088 against approving the proposed law school. The referendum was binding since the requirements of one-third of members voting and approval by a two-thirds margin were both met.
The proposal to accredit the law school has been controversial due to the requirement that all students and staff who attend or are employed at TWU must sign a covenant promising not to engage in sexual intimacy that “violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” The policy has been heavily criticized by both lawyers and members of the public as inconsistent with the fundamental values of the legal profession, since it allows the university to discriminate based on students’ private sexual activities.
TWU representatives were disappointed with the vote. According to CTV, TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold stated that “Trinity Western believes in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their person beliefs and values. A person’s ability to study and practice the law should not be restricted by their faith.”
The B.C. Law Society’s board (commonly referred to as “Benchers”) reviewed the referendum results on Friday, in the context of factors related to the issue, as well as strong urging by TWU not to rely on the voting results. The board then voted twenty-five to one with four abstentions, resulting in the ratification of the referendum results –passing a resolution against accreditation of the proposed law school.
British Columbia joins Nova Scotia and Ontario in officially rejecting the law program at TWU. The university is challenging the Ontario and Nova Scotia decisions, invoking the Charter right of the freedom of conscience and religion. TWU will decide in the following weeks whether it will be pursuing a judicial review of the B.C. decision. The law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nunavut have expressed their approval for TWU-trained students to practice in their respective jurisdictions.
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