Trinity Western University has overcome several hurdles on its way to developing a law school, but its most immediate challenge is very close to home, from the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC), next Tuesday (June 10).
Despite the fact that Benchers (governors) of the Law Society decided April 11 “that graduates from that law school will be eligible to enter the Law Society’s admission program,” lawyers opposing the move have successfully mustered enough support to compel a Special General Meeting June 10, in which members of the Law Society can vote on the issue. TWU’s opponents hope to force a withdrawal of the approval of the law school.
TWU president Bob Kuhn wrote a letter to members of the Law Society May 30 in which he made the point that “TWU and its proposed School of Law have met every standard imposed over an extensive 18-month review conducted by the Ministry of Advanced Education as well as the Federation [of Law Societies of Canada]. . . . The Benchers spent hundreds of hours reviewing the materials and, after obtaining numerous legal opinions, recognized the rights of TWU and its future graduates. The Benchers, and their decision, deserve the respect and support of our profession.
“Now,” he said, “some seek to summarily undermine the Federation, Ministry and Benchers’ decisions at the Special General Meeting . . . While TWU’s detractors profess tolerance, their opposition to TWU’s religious beliefs and that of its students exhibits the opposite trait.”
But there have been setbacks as well. The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) voted April 25 not to accept TWU law school graduates in the province of Ontario. A TWU statement released May 6 said the LSUC had “voted to ban graduates primarily because of the TWU community’s religious views on marriage.”
The Nova Scotia Barristers Society (NSBS) voted the same day not to approve the law school unless TWU altered its religious beliefs and practices. “Like Ontario,” the TWU statement pointed out, “this decision effectively concludes that one must change or hide their religious identity in order to participate in society.”
Trinity Western has decided that it will go to court “in order to respond to threats against these freedoms [of religion and conscience].”
Kuhn said, “We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect and, unfortunately, TWU is now being forced to re-litigate an issue that was decided in its favour by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001.”
Following is a plea by one Vancouver lawyer to members of his firm, Boughton Law, encouraging them to support Trinity Western at the June 10 vote, thereby supporting Christians and other minority groups who wish to study law in a religious community
– and those who are already guided by their faith while practicing law.
May 25, 2014
Dear colleagues and friends at Boughton:
By now I expect you are all aware of the upcoming Special General Meeting of the Law Society of British Columbia on Tuesday June 10, at which a vote will be held which may impact on the ability of law students graduating from Trinity Western University’s new School of Law to practice law in British Columbia.
You may have listened to the webcast (or read a transcript) of the April 11 Benchers’ meeting where the resolution to not recognize students from Trinity Western was rejected by a vote of 20 to 6. You may have read the article Tony Wilson wrote in the Globe and Mail, defending the decision of our Benchers in favour of Trinity Western on the basis that the decision was consistent with the Rule of Law. And you may have received email messages from various members of our profession explaining why it is important that you vote against Trinity Western on June 10.
In fact, by now you may simply be wishing that the whole Trinity Western issue would just go away, and the last thing you want to hear is another point of view. However, if you wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes, I’d like to express my own point of view on the topic, and why I think it is very important that each of you be at the meeting on June 10 to vote against the resolution which has been proposed (and in favour of Trinity Western).
I have never attended Trinity Western University. However, some 35 years ago when I was considering a career change from music to law, I met with a young associate lawyer at the firm now known as McMillan to discuss a moral question: could I, as a person of faith, continue to honour my faith beliefs and traditions while joining the legal profession?
The answer I received was a resounding “yes,” and over the years that followed I looked to this (formerly) young associate as a moral mentor whenever I ran into issues where my faith-determined moral sense and my legal duty appeared to conflict. Invariably he helped me consider solutions, and his involvement encouraged me to be a better lawyer, better advisor to my clients and better person.
Many of you heard me speak earlier this year on the value of relationships in my practice.In large part, the reason I value personal relationships with clients so highly is due to the effect a personal relationship with this individual has had on my professional career.
The individual I refer to is my good friend Bob Kuhn, who now serves as president of Trinity Western University. Thanks in large part to his involvement in my life and my career as a lawyer, I am able to engage fully in this incredible and challenging profession, because it does not require me to abandon my personal beliefs and values.
I am able to work to my fullest extent for my clients while at the same time remain true to my faith beliefs and traditions. Most importantly, I am able to fully support the oath each of us took (or will take) without compromising my faith.
What I find most troubling about the proposed resolution against Trinity Western is not that it is contrary to the Rule of Law (not that that doesn’t trouble me; it does, a great deal).
And it is not that Trinity Western law graduates will not be recognized by their own province, and will need to go to Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba to practice (although again, this does trouble me greatly).
It is not even that Benchers like our own Tony Wilson have spent countless hours reviewing thousands of pages of submissions, testimony and briefs, only to have their well-reasoned decisions be questioned by people who almost certainly have not invested such time and resources (and again, this does trouble me a great deal).
No, the most troubling thing is that, if this resolution is passed, it essentially tells me that I am not qualified to practice law in the Province of British Columbia. My colleagues at the bar will have deemed my personal faith beliefs and traditions to be incompatible with my chosen profession.
Ultimately, you need to vote your conscience at the meeting, as do I. And to me, a law school which recognizes that I can be who I am as an individual, and also a lawyer (and hopefully a reasonably good one), is a law school we should be supporting as members of the BC Bar.
In fact, this decision by BC lawyers does not actually deal with the institution of TWU. Such a resolution would at least make logical sense. But the SCC has already declared TWU has every right to have the beliefs and requirements it does as a private university. Their decision only directly effects individual student graduates coming from TWU, who unequivocally have the right to believe as they choose. As such, this decision is clearly discrimination against personal, religious beliefs. And as such it not only discriminates TWU graduates, but all those who have similar beliefs.
Before claiming discrimination please consider a simple fact:
Christians can (and do) attend every law school in Canada. People who identify as LGTBQ, if this resolution fails, will be able to attend every law school in Canada, except one.
This is not about discriminating against people of faith, this is about people of faith being entitled to operate a law school in which they are allowed to exclude applicants based on immutable characteristics.
You have a right to go to a law school as a Christian, you the right to go to a Christian law school, but you cannot demand the right to attend a Christian Law school that excludes a minority.
In my opinion, you’re mischaracterizing the issue.
Your colleagues who are against the accreditation of TWU will not have deemed your “personal faith beliefs and traditions to be incompatible with [your] chosen profession,” they will have deemed the accreditation of a religious school with institutionalized discriminatory practices to be against the public interest.
You are still perfectly capable of practicing law. The law societies, however, should not condone an institution that overtly demeans the dignity of LGBTQ folk.
“You are still capable of practicing law”? Really? What’s stopping you from passing a bill prohibiting anyone exhibiting so called ‘prejudice’ towards homosexual men and women?
Make no mistake, this is simply the first part of what is to come. If TWU loses, all Christian lawyers will be subject to harassment and dismissal for choosing to practice their faith.
I hope that TWU and sanity prevails. One should be able to practice their profession without regards to the content of their conscience depriving them of employment. For a long time in England, Catholics were deprived of professional occupation – let us not return to those dark days.
“What’s stopping you from passing a bill prohibiting anyone exhibiting so called ‘prejudice’ towards homosexual men and women?”
Laws like this already exist in most provinces, in regards to services offered to the public.
“If TWU loses, all Christian lawyers will be subject to harassment and dismissal for choosing to practice their faith.”
I think that is an exaggeration. “All Christian” exaggerates because not all Christians believe in the biblical definition marriage. As well, “choosing to practice their faith” is also an exaggeration. There are many Christians (evangelical and catholic) who are against gay marriage, but continue to practice law, because they ensure that they do not discriminate in providing services.