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Steve Weatherbe

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British Columbia lawyers to vote on Christian law school this month

Steve Weatherbe

The Law Society of British Columbia has decided to hold a referendum of all members by October 29 to decide whether to admit to the profession any graduates of a private Christian university’s projected law school.

But Trinity Western University, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college in Langley, just east of Vancouver, won’t accept rejection, insisting it will go to court to gain its grads admission to the B.C. law profession, as it already has done in Ontario and Nova Scotia. The school is set to open in 2016.

The B.C. Law Society’s ruling body, the Benchers, voted in April to accept TWU law grads, but at this week’s meeting they voted to reverse that decision if so instructed by a two-thirds majority of those voting in the referendum. A further condition for the vote to be binding is that at least one third of the province’s 11,000 lawyers must cast a ballot.

What changed the Benchers’ minds between April and now was an extraordinary general meeting prompted by members hostile to TWU because of its requirement that all students agree to live according to Christian principles. This, its critics deem discriminatory against homosexuals. That general meeting passed a non-binding resolution recommending that the Benchers reverse their decision.

The Benchers never explained their April decision, but they admitted it took into consideration the fact that TWU fought and won a very similar legal battle in 2001, when the B.C. teaching profession rejected TWU’s bid to establish a degree-granting teaching college. The province’s teachers argued TWU’s grads would discriminate against homosexual students, but the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the claim.

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Some critics of TWU argue that there are too many law schools already; others argue that there are too few (with a Christian law school somehow reducing the number). TWU opponents dismiss the 2001 decision on the grounds that Canada has become a more “tolerant” country since then.

Trinity Western University President Bob Kuhn is confident that the university will win any legal battle, but hopes it will only have to do so against one of the law societies, not three or four. He said that there is “no basis to distinguish” the 2001 teachers college case from this one, “nor has the case law since then given any reason to think the Supreme Court has changed its thinking.”

If anything, said Kuhn, the Supreme Court’s rulings favour TWU by moving towards finding “a reasonable balance” between rival claimants for constitutional protection—in this case, religion and homosexuals—by favoring the weaker. The way Canada’s lawyers are ganging up on TWU because of its Christian beliefs, Kuhn believes the Supreme Court will find TWU is the weaker party.

TWU’s suits against the Ontario and Nova Scotia legal professions will go to trial in mid-December, as will a suit against the B.C. government brought by human rights lawyers objecting to its approval of TWU’s law school. Any referendum decision in B.C. could be moot.

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