UPDATED: Law Society approves Trinity Western University law school

The Law Society of B.C. has little kind to say about the Trinity Western University Community Covenant, but it won’t reject TWU’s law school.

Trinity will be Canada’s first law school at a Christian university.

In a live webcast on April 10, members of the society executive debated allowing a law school at the Langley university. The society has the final approval.

The debate centred on the school’s Community Covenant, which sets out expectations of conduct, including those related to sex, and in opposition to homosexuality.

A motion to reject TWU failed, 20-6.

“This is unfortunately one of those decisions we were not going to be able to reach a consensus,” society president Jan Lindsay said.

Late Friday morning, Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn explained the process over the past several years. TWU will start its law school in September 2016.

“We worked for five years, in consultation with many lawyers, judges, and professors, to create a proposal for a high quality law school and this decision allows us to now proceed in building that school. This is also an important decision for all Canadians. It says that there is room in a democratic country like Canada for a law school at a Christian university. TWU’s School of Law will join other Canadian law schools, complementing existing legal education in this country,” he said.

The law society is the regulatory body for the province’s 11,000 lawyers. The provincial government and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada had previously given their approvals.

In spite of their approvals, the law society decided to hold a review, inviting public and lawyer input.

The executive members discussed whether the covenant would mean TWU graduates were unable to practice law fairly because of a religious-based education. The law guarantees protection against discrimination based on sexuality.

It’s not the first time TWU has come under scrutiny for whether its graduates could do the job in light of shifting Canadian societal values. A 2001 Supreme Court case involved education students and whether they would make good teachers because of the religious requirements of the university.

Law society executive members were divided on whether to allow the law school.

“We are not here to say TWU shouldn’t hold those beliefs,” said board member Sharon Matthews.

But she noted that when belief becomes action and impacts others, there is an issue. She pointed to the admission requirement of signing the covenant, that’s TWU beliefs impacting whether a student can study there.

“The covenant implies there can be sanctions up to dismissal for violation of the covenant,” she added.

But David Crossin, another law society board member, said the society’s mandate is to act if there is a violation related to lawyers and legal conduct, and not assume this will happen.

“There is no evidence the graduates will be unable or unwilling to properly serve the public,” he said.

He was willing to allow TWU to have the law school even though he commented that “some or many or most find the goals of TWU in the exercise in this fundamental right to be out of step or offensive.”

Many with the law society commented that they would like TWU to reconsider the covenant in the context of modern society’s views.

Kuhn promised that the TWU law school will be different, training lawyers with a focus on community service. He added that the School of Law will help meet the growing need for practical and affordable legal services in Canada. Students will be encouraged to see the profession of law as a high calling of service, and to volunteer with local, national, and global NGOs that serve under-developed nations and the vulnerable, he said.

Society board members Pinder K. Cheema and Jeevyn Dhaliwal noted that as women and visible minorities, they would not have been allowed to practice law in Canada in the past and as members of a minority religion, would likely not be admitted to TWU.

“I know full well what it feels like to be discriminated against,” Dhaliwal.

Cheema said the TWU students may have a tougher time in the legal profession.

“Your students in the years to come will be identified and marked,” she commented. “That reputation will follow them into practice.”

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