Debate rages at LSUC over accreditation of TWU law degrees

Virtually all Law Society of Upper Canada benchers who spoke at a special Convocation this morning said Trinity Western University’s Christian covenant includes discriminatory elements that will have impact on access to the legal profession.

The university is seeking accreditation of its proposed law school, which will require students to subscribe to a community covenant banning “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

To bencher Paul Schabas, the decision on whether or not to accredit the law school is a no brainer. TWU’s covenant “smacks of another era” and “it’s so clearly discriminatory,” he said, adding that the law society would be participating in that discrimination if it accredits TWU’s law school.

Schabas reminded benchers that just recently, they unanimously endorsed a motion to denounce Uganda’s anti-gay laws. “But do we not apply the same commitment to human rights at home?” he asked.

Bencher Janet Minor asked Convocation to consider the impact of accrediting a school that limits its pool of applicants based on values other than merit. If the law society accredits TWU’s law school, “it would be the first time we legitimized differential standards to admission to the profession,” she said.

To some, the debate over accrediting the law school despite its covenant was reminiscent of historic discrimination toward minorities in other forms. Aboriginal bencher Susan Hare said faith-based institutions have in the past justified maltreatment of Aboriginal Canadians as well.

In an emotional speech, Chinese-Canadian Bencher Avvy Go reminded Convocation about the Chinese head tax and discrimination that historically targeted Chinese lawyers. “Today, I hope our social values have changed,” she said, noting no one should be barred from going to law school due to their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Ex-officio Bencher Clayton Ruby called TWU’s provision on gays “hateful” and urged benchers to reject it. He added the Christian faith does not require its followers to found a law school and that rejecting the law school will not impinge on religious freedom.

Ruby suggested no religion promotes discrimination against gays. “If you do, you’re on your own,” he said.

Gerald Swaye, also an ex-officio bencher who has served on Convocation for nearly two decades, said the controversy over accrediting TWU’s proposed law school is one of the most significant questions the law society has ever had to consider.

“Discrimination in any institution is just plain wrong in this day and age,” he said.

Some benchers also considered the disadvantages of rejecting TWU’s bid for approval. Bill McDowell said it is important, too, that the legal profession promotes diversity that includes people of minority faith. But he also said TWU’s covenant misses the point that being gay “isn’t what LGBT people do, it’s who they are at the core.”

TWU’s president and chancellor were present at Convocation as observers. The school will be given a chance to respond in writing to the concerns raised at today’s meeting before a final decision is made on its accreditation on April 24.

The debate continues this afternoon. Watch the webcast here.

Update Apr. 11: The Law Society of British Columbia voted today to accept TWU law school graduates 20:6

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