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B.C. lawyers say no to TWU law school

LSBC reverses its accreditation of controversial religious-based law school
|Written By Gail J. Cohen and Yamri Taddese

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

  • Freedom of Choice- What a farce!

    three blind mice
    Lawyers showing their try colors… what a joke, how can so many lawyers flip flop on this vote? just because pro LGBT lawyer Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan bullied other lawyers to change their mind and opinion, the weak minded and ignorant flip flop lawyers agree with this bully. He does not attend the school and never will, who does this bully think he is? ( a dictator)!
    How can such a small interest group have influence over the freedom of choice of others? What a bunch of hypocrites… no credibility!
    I PRAY that the courts uphold our fundamental freedom of some of the best students getting an education they want at the school they want… its called choice!
    TWU is a private university that i am going to attend. How can someone who has no association with the university tell me as a student, i can not attain my law degree from them.
    I deserve the right to be able to get my law degree from TWU, maybe I should sue the BC law society as well.
    Merry Christmas all!
  • Ms.

    B.S. Anderson
    My comments are directed to Mr. Guy Saffold, spokesperson for TWU Law School. Not unsurprisingly in the circumstances, your very narrow view circumscribes your analysis. It is not because of your "faith", as embodied in your restrictions imposed on students, and for which you complain will affect one's "ability to study and practise the law". TWU Law School has faced rejection because of your bias. The law MUST remain blind. Kudos to LSBC!
  • RE: B.C. lawyers say no to TWU law school

    Peter Nation
    It seems that there are two issues here. The first is the tension between a very small minority's belief in their right to sexual expression and the university's right to freedom of belief and religious practice.
    The right to religious freedom is a more basic right in a democracy, and therefore must trump the minority right in this case, particularly since this religious belief has nothing to do with most branches of law.
    Secondly, and most ironically, the second issue has to do with the right of a relatively small, private university who will graduate an even smaller number of law students not to be bullied by 1000's of BC lawyers. For shame! Surely the legal profession in this province can absorb a very few lawyers who think differently than it does about marriage? The gay community should speak out against their members who are imposing their values on a group that holds different beliefs. Has it not learned from its own experience of discrimination?

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