Members of the Law Society of British Columbia have voted to declare that Trinity Western University’s (TWU) law school is not an approved faculty of law for the purposes of the Law Society’s admissions program.
More than 4,000 of the province’s 11,000 practicing lawyers submitted their votes, with 3,210 (70%) in favour and 968 (30%) opposed.
The ballot was over the Christian institution’s policy that forbids its students and staff from engaging in sexual relationships outside of heterosexual relationships. Students must sign a covenant that states that they will abide by the terms of not engaging in homosexual relationships.
However, under the Legal Profession Act, the resolution is non-binding and does not reverse a previous decision in April when the Board of Governors (Benchers) voted 20-6 against a motion that would have prevented Trinity Western University graduates from practicing law in the province.
“The decision regarding whether to admit graduates from the proposed law school at TWU is a Bencher decision,” said President Jan Lindsay, QC. “However, the Benchers will give the result of today’s members meeting serious and thoughtful consideration.”
“This is a complex issue that engages many points of view,” Lindsay said. “There is currently litigation challenging the BC provincial government’s decision to approve a law school at TWU and litigation in Ontario and Nova Scotia challenging the decision by law societies there not to approve the proposed law school at TWU. Ultimately, I fully expect that the issues raised will be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.”
In late-April, the directors of Ontario’s law society, the Law Society of Upper Canada, voted 28 to 21 against allowing graduates from the future law school to practice in Canada’s most populous province. Nova Scotia’s law society also made a similar, but conditional, move that would prevent the school’s graduates from practicing in the province unless it changes its covenant.
TWU currently has approximately 4,000 students studying at its Langley campus. It aims to open its law school in 2016 and will challenge the decisions of the three provincial law societies in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia courts, claiming that it interferes with their Charter right of the freedom of conscience and religion.
Meanwhile, law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nunavut have given the approval needed for TWU graduates to practice law in their jurisdictions.
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