The Law Society of British Columbia has reversed its accreditation of Trinity Western University’s law school after the majority of the province’s bar voted against its initial decision in a referendum last night.
In an unprecedented binding referendum of the law society’s members, 74 per cent voted for a resolution that would deny TWU law school graduates accreditation to practise in the province.
This morning, LSBC benchers passed a resolution — 25-1, with four abstentions — to accept the referendum’s results.
“I think the vote today got the law society on the right side of history and I am pleased to see it,” says B.C., lawyer Michael Mulligan, who has been at the forefront of the opposition to accredit TWU’c law school in the province.
The Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society of Nova Scotia also voted against accreditation the law school after taking issue with its Christian covenant, which bans members of the university from engaging in gay sex. Like B.C.’s law society, the Law Society of New Brunswick first voted to recognize future TWU law graduates but will reconsider this decision in November after ecision last month after a special general meeting of its members rejected that decision.
The B.C. referendum was conducted by mail-in ballot, and required one-third of the province’s lawyers to participate and two-thirds to vote in favour in order to pass.
Of the 13,530 practising, non-practising, and retired lawyers eligible to vote, more than half exercised their democratic right and got their ballots posed in by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The final results: 5,951 (74 per cent) voted in favour and 2,088 (26 per cent) against the resolution.
Trinity Western University issued a statement following the referendum.
“The university is disappointed with this vote,” said Guy Saffold, spokesman for the school. “Trinity Western believes in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their personal beliefs and values. A person’s ability to study and practise the law should not be restricted by their faith.”
The referendum question posed to members of the B.C. bar was:
Be it “[r]esolved that the Benchers implement the resolution of the members passed at the special general meeting of the Law Society held on June 10, 2014, and declare that the proposed law school at Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law for the purpose of the Law Society’s admissions program.”
Benchers had originally approved the law school in April, but the membership, in another unprecedented move, rose up and called for a rare special general meeting to voice their strong disapproval of the decision.
At meetings held concurrently at 12 locations across the province, 4,183 — less than a third of the LSBC’s membership — came to passionately have their say. That vote was 3,210 in favor and 968 opposed.
However, under the Legal Profession Act, the resolution was not binding on the LSBC benchers who approved TWU’s program April 11. On Sept. 26, the benchers held another debate as to how to address the issue that was obviously of great importance to its membership. They ended up passing the motion to conduct this poll of the membership.
“I thought it was really impressive to see the membership of the [B.C. law] society turn out twice, once at the special general meeting and again at this [referendum] vote, to deliver the message that discriminatory policies of the school are inconsistent with the core values of the legal profession,” Mulligan adds.
“As the long as the school continues to have the disciplinary expulsion of students for their private sexual activity, they’re not going to receive the approval of the Law Society of [British Columbia],” says Mulligan.
TWU will challenge LSUC’s decision in a judicial review application at the Divisional Court next month.
Update 2:15 pm: Details and commentary added