Students, lawyers protest proposed private law school

{module TWU protest} {nomultithumb}
All photos: Heather Gardiner

A group of lawyers and law students gathered outside Osgoode Hall today to protest Trinity Western University’s proposal for a law school, arguing the school discriminates against queer students.

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada is reviewing the private Christian university’s application for a three-year JD program, which it hopes to offer to students starting September 2015.

Protesters disagree with TWU’s community covenant, which requires students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Angela Chaisson, a lawyer at Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan in Toronto, says approving a law school at TWU would be “an enormous blow to legal education.”

TWU “can be anti-gay, they can truly believe that, they can think it, they can say it, they can pray about it, they can write about it, they can lecture about it, but they can’t take that additional step of discriminating against gay applicants and gay students,” she tells Legal Feeds.

“It’s the distinction between belief and conduct. They are actually discriminating and that’s the concern — there will be a quota system where if you’re gay and you want to be a lawyer you have fewer options than your straight counterparts,” she says.

Ella Henry, co-chairwoman of the University of Toronto’s Out in Law student group, said if the federation approves TWU’s proposal, it will send a message that queer students aren’t welcome in the legal profession.

“A decision to accredit Trinity Western would be completely out of touch with the realities faced by LGBTQ students on campuses today,” she said.

Benjamin Vandorpe, co-chairman of Osgoode OUTlaws, said by accrediting TWU’s law school, the federation would be “endorsing discrimination against the LGBTQ community.”

“Trinity Western cannot be allowed to force individuals back into the closet,” he said.

Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said: “It’s unthinkable to me, as the head of an organization that works on human rights issues, that we might see in 2013 in Canada a law school that is permitted to train people for the practice of law, adopt a policy that overtly discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. This is something that strikes at the very heart of fundamental principles embodied in Canadian law, our Charter, and our human rights codes across the country.”

Despite what the federation decides, he said law societies should not be let off the hook.

“At the end of the day, those individual law societies have to decide whether graduates from Trinity Western University’s law school, should it be accredited, are in fact admissible to the bar in each and every province across the country. If those law societies decide that they are not, then to me that seems like a pretty significant disincentive to go to Trinity Western,” he said.

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