Skip to content

LSUC says no to TWU law school

|Written By Yamri Taddese

After two days of impassioned debate and weeks of contemplation, the benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada have voted not to accredit Trinity Western University’s proposed law school because of its Christian community covenant, which bans gay sex.

LSUC benchers voted not to approve Trinity Western’s law degrees.

In an opposite move to their counterparts at the Law Society of British Columbia, LSUC benchers voted 28-21 to reject TWU’s bid.

“The decision was a difficult one,” Treasurer Thomas Conway said after the vote. “Convocation's deliberation was, I believe, thorough and respectful of all views. The decision reflects the deeply divisive nature of some of the aspects of this application.”

TWU president and vice chancellor Bob Kuhn said the LSUC’s decision was disappointing but the unversity won’t be deterred from moving forward with its law school.

“We don't see the necessity of gaining unanimity of every province,” he said, adding today's decision will have a chilling effect on Evangelical Christians.

The debate was sometimes heated and most benchers had a say.

 “I cannot accept that it’s in the public interest to accredit a law school that wants to control its students in the bedroom,” said Bencher Howard Goldblatt in a remark reminiscent to one made by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1967.

During the debate, Bencher Julian Falconer said today’s decision would be a historic one.

“To my 13 year old son, who will not read these transcripts today, but [will] five or 10 years from now, I say to him, ‘I will do the right thing, I will vote against accrediting TWU,’” he said.

Despite assurances from Kuhn that the university is “a community of safety,” Falconer wanted to know what would happen to a student who discovers they are gay while at the university. The covenant urges students to make sure others follow it, he said, adding a student who discovers they are gay “becomes a target.”

Kuhn addressed Convocation at the beginning of today’s debate. He told benchers there is no legal or logical basis for them not to accredit the law school. In fact, if the LSUC goes against the decision of the Federation of the Law Societies of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers,  it will be holding itself out as a court of appeal, said Kuhn.

Kuhn said TWU is guided by Christian virtues such as love and respect for others. There is no evidence the school’s graduates will exhibit discriminatory attitudes, he said, adding if they reject TWU’s bid, benchers would be validating the “vitriolic” comments that have been directed at the university, including comparisons to apartheid, racism, and Muslim extremism.

For Bencher Malcolm Mercer, those analogies are in fact relevant since the issue at the heart of the accreditation debate is the exclusion of people for who they are. Mercer said in its reply to concerns expressed by LSUC benchers, TWU did not address the law society’s duty to uphold diversity and equal access to the law profession.

Some benchers, like Constance Backhouse, said they take issue with the idea that TWU can do what it wants because it is a private institution. Law schools are public institutions, Backhouse said, noting the school is also a registered charitable organization.

Other benchers said it was important the LSUC upholds the law set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001 when it was faced with a similar question. Several benchers agreed TWU should be accredited even if its covenant is “personally abhorrent to us.”

“It seems to me that the Supreme Court has already balanced the rights of the LGBT community,” said Bencher Barbara Murchie. “We are bound by the law and there is no legal reason not to accredit.”

Whether the law society is bound by the top court’s decision in BCCT was a major part of the today’s debate. While some lawyers felt that precedent had to be applied, others said the law society as a regulator of a self-governing profession has discretion to decide the way it sees fit within the limits of the law.

To Bencher John Campion, TWU’s covenant “has little to do with religious views. It has to do with sexuality. If it is discriminatory and against the laws of Ontario, we cannot approve it.”

Meanwhile in B.C., 1,177 lawyers have filed a request to the LSBC for a special general meeting to reconsider TWU’s accreditation.

Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan, who initiated the requests for reconsideration, said only five per cent of LSBC members had to request the special meeting. The 1,177 requests are “far in excess of that,” he tells Legal Feeds. The LSBC is now obligated to hold the meeting within 60 days, Mulligan says, and all B.C. lawyers in good standing will be able to vote on a motion to reverse the accrediation of TWU’s law school.

Kuhn said he’s not concerned about the growing petition in B.C. to request a reconsideration. This is an emotional issue to some, but the decision has always been the same in B.C., he said.

Conway says to his knowledge, Ontario lawyers cannot request a special meeting to seek reconsideration of Convocation's decision.

Stay tuned, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society takes this question on tomorrow.

Update 5:08 pm: Comments from TWU president Bob Kuhn.

  • retired

    Gerry Poole
    I fear that you have not gone far enough. There are others such as Orthodox Jew. Muslims and perhaps Sikhs who hold the same beliefs as those at TWU. You need to include these people in your ban. At the same time you must also purge your membership of these same people who managed to "sneak into your organization under the radar". If this seems absurd it is but so is your decision. Freedom of religion does not mean one can adhere to any theology as long as it is fashionable and agreeable to everyone. I suspect that if TWU were a Muslim college there would not have been such a decision.
  • RE: LSUC says no to TWU law school

    judith welch
    TWU has courageously put all their cards on the table.

    Publish the list of LSUC voters by names: Yeah and Nay...

    How else will we ever know if the vote was trumped up or the decision of one key person?

    Man up and tell us the real results...we don't need cowards who hide behind a check mark. Anyone can say the majority voted nay, we need proof...names.

    At least have the courage of your convictions!
  • RE: LSUC says no to TWU law school

    Anonymous Lawyer
    This TWU controversy has brought out many issues and many perspectives. With respect, it seems like many have failed to consider the key problem that I see. No one is prohibiting Christian lawyers from practicing law. No one is requiring TWU to cease being a Christian university. TWU is a private entity that requires its students to sign a covenant that prohibited homosexual conduct, even if they were in a legally recognized same-sex marriage. If you do not, you are not allowed entrance.

    But that is not all. TWU has stepped into the public sphere by requesting a law school and requesting a public entity to recognize it. The law society is a public regulating body that makes decision in ways as to protect the public good. Our society, as a collective has renounced discrimination based on sexual orientation, in the same way we have prohibited discrimination based on sex and race.
  • BC Practicing Lawyer

    Anonymous Lawyer
    In granting TWU accreditation, the B.C. Law Society is giving public endorsement to TWU’s practice of discriminating against members of the LGTBQ community and, further, granting legitimacy, in the public sphere, to TWU’s Christian view that homosexuality is wrong. This public endorsement is not in the public interest. Worse yet, this is a detriment to our society’s gruelling, long-fought battle to recognize the human rights of all members of the LGTBQ community and their right to be treated equally. The decision to accredit TWU was wrong: http://wp.me/p4A1wz-4
  • RE: LSUC says no to TWU law school

    Luthor D.
    [quote name="hernanday oleary"]Once the School is accredited the lsuc will be foreced to recognize it when it starts pumping out grads, they will be sued like crazy if not by twu themselves. This is a hollow victory for lsuc as it will just cost money when they lose the same case again. I do find it bizarre though, because if someone truly hates gays, a school will not change it, and if someone doesn't hate gays a school's policy of no sex before marriage cannot make them hate gays. Ironically you have lawyers who practiced when being gay was illegal in Canada who prosecuted gay people and threw them in jail for being gay still practicing law, but christian lawyers are viewed as threat to gays.[/quote]

    Well, even if you can't win this battle, you'll always have your eloquence.
  • RE: LSUC says no to TWU law school

    Brian Dell
    Never underestimate the power of the LGBT lobby to get someone fired for reasons that have nothing to do with his or her competency (see Brendan Eich).

    Anybody have any evidence TWU law grads would actually do any harm to any LGBT perosn? No? Evidence doesn't matter when unsupported prejudice against these students will do, I suppose.

    As a law grad I've always marvelled at the capacity of the legal community to justify intolerance when its target is social conservatives.
  • RE: LSUC says no to TWU law school

    hernanday oleary
    Once the School is accredited the lsuc will be foreced to recognize it when it starts pumping out grads, they will be sued like crazy if not by twu themselves. This is a hollow victory for lsuc as it will just cost money when they lose the same case again. I do find it bizarre though, because if someone truly hates gays, a school will not change it, and if someone doesn't hate gays a school's policy of no sex before marriage cannot make them hate gays. Ironically you have lawyers who practiced when being gay was illegal in Canada who prosecuted gay people and threw them in jail for being gay still practicing law, but christian lawyers are viewed as threat to gays.
  • Managing Partner, Stewart Sharma Harsanyi

    Raj Sharma
    Leviticus has little place in the 21st century. Kudos to the LSUC.

SPECIAL REPORTS



Save

SUBSCRIBE TO LEGAL FEEDS

BY EMAIL

AWARDS

  • clawbies 2015
    clawbies 2014
  • clawbies 2013
    clawbies 2012
  • clawbies 2011
    clawbies 2010