Ontario, Nova Scotia law societies won't accredit TWU grads
Published Friday, April 25, 2014 7:25PM PDT Last Updated Friday, April 25, 2014 7:28PM PDT
HALIFAX -- The bar societies of Nova Scotia and Ontario have struck a blow against religious values in denying accreditation to future law school graduates of Trinity Western University, the president of the B.C. Christian school said Friday.
Nova Scotia Barrister's Society council ruled Friday that Trinity Western University must drop a covenant that prohibits same-sex intimacy before graduates from the school would be allowed to enrol in the province's bar admission program.
That decision came a day after the Law Society of Upper Canada's board of directors in Ontario decided they will not allow the school's graduates to practise in that province, condemning the covenant as "abhorrent."
"We are very disappointed," said Trinity Western University president Bob Kuhn in a statement.
"These decisions impact all Canadians and people of faith everywhere. They send the chilling message that you cannot hold religious values and also participate fully in public society."
The Nova Scotia Barrister's Society council narrowly voted 10 to nine in favour of granting accreditation to the university as long as it eliminates a community covenant that students are required to sign. The agreement, which forbids intimacy outside heterosexual marriage, has been criticized as discriminatory against gays and lesbians.
Society president Rene Gallant said while the decision prevents graduates from Trinity Western University's law school from articling in Nova Scotia, they will be permitted to practise in the province in keeping with inter-provincial work mobility agreements and a previous decision by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in granting preliminary approval to the law school.
"It's ultimately up to TWU now to decide what it wants to do," said Gallant. "We support the law school in other respects as did the federation committee, but the community covenant is the problem."
The university, which bills itself as the largest, independent Christian liberal arts institution in Canada, wants to open a law school in 2016. Kuhn said Friday those plans will move ahead despite the decisions.
In December, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada gave Trinity Western University preliminary approval for its law school program and said it was up to provincial law societies to decide whether to recognize degrees from the school, located in Langley, southeast of Vancouver.
The Law Society of British Columbia cleared the way earlier this month for the law school to proceed. B.C.'s Advanced Education Ministry has also approved the school to grant degrees.
The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society held public hearings on the issue earlier this year, where a number of lawyers and legal experts condemned Trinity Western's policies.
But Kuhn told the panel that treating the university's alumni different from graduates of other schools would be prejudicial.
Kuhn, a long-time lawyer, said he was offended by any suggestion that religious beliefs would prevent students from acting professionally and ethically in their duties as lawyers.
It's not the first time the university has fought to defend its controversial beliefs.
In the late 1990s, the British Columbia College of Teachers blocked Trinity Western from granting teaching degrees in light of its policies related to homosexuality. At the time, students were required to sign an agreement not to engage in activities that were "biblically condemned," including "homosexual behaviour."
The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which overturned the college's decision.
Kuhn said Friday the university is reviewing its options, including legal recourse.
"These provincial law societies are not the final authority," he said. "We feel the Ontario and Nova Scotia decisions are legally incorrect and it may now be necessary to relitigate an issue that has already been decided in our favour by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001."