B.C. Lawyers to vote on TWU law school

The Law Society of B.C. will hold a lawyers referendum on Trinity Western University’s law school approval.

In April the society, which oversees lawyers in this province, voted to approve TWU grads, a requirement of them practicing law in B.C.

In June, a member brought forward a resolution that resulted in a vote to re-examine the approval. The vote was 3,210 in favour and 968 opposed.

There’s division over the TWU requirement of students to sign its Community Covenant which has students pledging to abstain from sex outside marriage which is defined as a union of a man and woman. It’s seen as anti-gay and has people questioning whether TWU can adequately educate lawyers.

“Enrolment at TWU is by law open to people of any race, colour, creed, or sexual orientation,” said TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold.

The society is holding a referendum of its 11,000 members.

“We are disappointed with this decision,” said Saffold, “The Benchers originally approved TWU graduates based on constitutional principles and the rule of law. They have now decided that the matter should be determined by popular vote.”

The LSBC benchers (most senior decision makers) met Sept. 26 to vote on three motions.

They defeated a motion calling for the society to withdraw the TWU approval and a motion to hold off on decisions was withdrawn.

The benchers did approve a motion to hold a referendum as soon as practical. The motion approved by the benchers says the referendum decision is binding on the benchers if at least one-third of society members vote and if at least two-thirds of those, vote in favour of withdrawal of approval.

It’s the latest wrinkle in TWU’s efforts to start a law school which it plans to open in September 2016.

Jan Lindsay, president of the law society, said the benchers April decision was based on more than 800 pages of submissions, two reports from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, a number of legal opinions and the Supreme Court of Canada decision in a previous Trinity Western University case.

“Our decision to hold a referendum will ensure that all members… will now have a chance to be heard and provide direction to the benchers.”

TWU released a statement that said the LSBC obtained a legal opinion that puts into question whether the member vote would have any relevance on the Benchers April 11 decision where they voted 20 to 7 in favour of TWU graduates.

“The referendum cannot be binding on the benchers,” said TWU School of Law executive director Earl Phillips, LLB. “We agree with the legal opinion received by the Benchers and feel it is a waste of time and resources to go through this referendum process.”

Several other provinces did not go through an approval process but instead opted to abide by the decision of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, which approved TWU grads.

TWU is filed a court appeal to review the decision of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the regulatory body for Ontario, and for the Nova Scotia Barristers Society which also refused to approve TWU.

As well, five lawyers are suing the provincial government over Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk’s approval, seeking to get it overturned.

“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.”

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