BC Lawyers oppose a Faculty of Law at TWU
At a special June 10, 2014 meeting of the members of the Law Society of British Columbia, 3,210 lawyers voted against approval for a Faculty of Law at Trinity Western University, while 968 lawyers voted for its approval. While the vote seems to indicate overwhelming opposition, the majority of the 13, 114 members of the Law Society did not cast a ballot.
The special meeting was called because a requisite number of lawyers were dissatisfied with the April 11, 2014 decision of the Benchers, who are responsible for governing the Law Society, to approve the law school at TWU for the purposes of the Law Society’s admissions program.
The vote, however, is not binding on the Benchers. In a press release following the special meeting, President Jan Lindsay, QC said, “The decision regarding whether to admit graduates from the proposed law school at TWU is a Bencher decision,” adding that, “however, the Benchers will give the result of today’s members meeting serious and thoughtful consideration.”
The Benchers’ decision came after an extensive process of consultation, and a thought-provoking debate that touched upon issues of equality, discrimination, freedom of association, religious freedom and the rule of law. I watched the debate live, and in my view, the Benchers arrived at a principled decision regarding a contentious issue that involves the conflicting Charter rights of two disparate groups.
The opposition to TWU is based on a clause in the university’s “Community in Covenant” agreement which upholds a traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman. Students, faculty and staff agree to abide by the covenant. Many, as the vote of BC lawyers indicates, object to this clause as discriminatory, and tantamount to placing a sign at the gate stating that LGBTQ people are not welcome.
TWU has right to its beliefs
While I dislike the idea of a university requiring its members to sign a covenant that governs the most intimate aspects of their lives, TWU has the right to uphold a particular view of marriage, and those who share the institution’s beliefs have the right to congregate and associate with others of like mind.
I share the opinion of the BC Civil Liberties Association, an organization that has a record of supporting the rights of LGBTQ persons but who took the position, “to deny (TWU’s) application based on the university’s Community Covenant would infringe the Charter-protected freedom of association and religion of members of the faith-based private university”, adding that these are fundamental freedoms and “that’s what s. 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is all about, protecting our freedoms of association, of assembly, of belief and of expression.” (For greater depth, see also the BCCLA Submission to the Law Society of BC. )
In 2001, in Trinity Western University, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the BC College of Teachers could not deny education graduates of TWU admittance to the teaching profession based on religious beliefs about homosexuality that were unacceptable to the College.
Unfair to assume a lack of professionalism because of a belief
There is no evidence that teachers trained at TWU fail to professionally and competently exercise their teaching responsibilities when employed in the public school system. Similarly, there is no reason to assume that future graduates of a law school at TWU will be incapable of upholding the laws of the land and representing the rights of clients of all persuasions. If an individual lawyer trained at TWU should prove incapable of doing so, the public can reasonably expect that the Law Society will deal with that person according to the remedial and disciplinary procedures already in place for lawyers who fail to faithfully represent clients and honorably serve the cause of justice.
In my opinion, for a law society to deny candidates admission to the legal profession because of a religious belief that is socially anathema to a percentage of its existing membership is unjustified, and is discriminatory in its own way. In the absence of evidentiary proof that TWU’s traditional view of marriage and its code of sexual conduct does harm to others, graduates of its law school should be eligible for admission to the BC bar.
The Law Society of BC is properly concerned with the training, qualification, ethics, competency and conduct of its members. It is not its task, however, to regulate belief by excluding those with whom some of its members disagree.