Trinity-Western University, a private Christian institution located in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia with approximately 4,000 students, has received approval from the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (the “Federation”) to develop a TWU School of Law.
A TWU News Release of December 2013 cites TWU President Kuhn was “thrilled with this news.” The President’s joy is unsurprising in light of the considerable controversy sparked by TWU’s pitch for its new School of Law. There has been significant backlash from both the legal community and the greater community-at-large due to TWU’s “Community Covenant Agreement”, which requires, among other things, that no faculty, staff, or student may partake in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. President Kuhn welcomes all students, gay or straight, provided they are willing to respect these community values. In response to the question as to whether a gay couple could be expelled for having sexual relations, TWU’s School of Law FAQs state, “if a member of the University community can’t or won’t accept those standards, we invite them to seek one of many other living/learning situations that would be more acceptable to them.”
Given the power of the Canadian Charter and the underlying values of tolerance and equality in the Canadian legal system, many people are concerned with allowing TWU to develop a law program. In a nutshell, how can you expect TWU to teach Charter values when TWU's Covenant picks and chooses its Charter values according to their fit within TWU’s definition of a Christian environment? Counter-arguments for the School highlight that Trinity is a private, not public institution, that potential students are making a choice to go there, and that TWU is capable of teaching equality of the Charter and its application in Canada, notwithstanding any personal views of the insitution or its faculty.
Although TWU was successful in a similar case respecting teacher training in the 1990s, many people, including Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law Professor, Elaine Craig, have been vocal in the need to re-address the topic. This is due, in part, to the considerable developments for the queer community over the last 20 years, including the right to marriage equality.
Ms. Craig’s article in the Globe and Mail “Globe Debate” outlines the above considerations, and states her disappointment with the Federation of Law Societies’ preliminary approval of TWU’s School of Law. Ms. Craig’s article is titled “Law societies must show more courage on Trinity Western application.” It appears certain law societies are taking steps in that direction.
On January 14, 2014, Carsten Jensen, President of the Law Society of Alberta spoke out against the Federation’s approval,
“As President of the Law Society of Alberta, I am concerned about ensuring ourprofession represents the diversity of the communities that lawyers serve. TheLaw Society of Alberta is aware of likely challenges to the Federation’s decision,and we would welcome a judicial determination on this question. We would alsowelcome the opportunity to work together with the other law societies in Canada,through the Federation, to consider amending the law degree approval criteria toaddress these issues.”
Working with other law societies may be in the foreseeable future. On January 24, 2014, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (“NSBS”) Council will meet to discuss the discrimination concerns and the Federation’s approval. In a Memo dated December 20, 2014, President of NSBS J. René Gallant encourages input from both members of the profession and the greater public. Please click here for the memo and more information on how to participate.
At the time of this blog, I have reviewed the other provincial and territorial law society websites and have not been able to locate any other bulletins expressing concern for the Federation’s approval. It remains to be seen whether more provincial law societies will voice concerns, and whether the judicial review welcomed by the Law Society of Alberta will become a reality.