Trinity Western University’s (“TWU”) new law school in British Columbia has lost its bid to become accredited by Ontario’s Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”).
On April 24, 2014, Convocation, the governing board of the LSUC, voted against the accreditation of a proposed new law school at TWU. The vote was 28 to 21 against accreditation, with one abstention, following two days of debate which were webcast to the profession and the public.
This means that TWU law school graduates will not be able to practice law in Ontario or have their credentials recognized by LSUC, which regulates admission the Ontario Bar. Whether future graduates will be admitted to practice law in Ontario by some alternative process has yet to be determined.
The controversy surrounding TWU arose because TWU requires its students and staff to sign a strict Christian Community Covenant agreement that forbids “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman,” among other prohibitions. The Covenant’s prohibitions apply to conduct both on and off campus. Violation of the Covenant and its standards of conduct could result in suspension or expulsion.
The debates before the Law Society focused on whether TWU’s Covenant was discriminatory under human rights legislation and/or contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in educational services and employment; however the Code also provides for certain exemptions and permits special interest organizations to restrict their membership based on religious or other grounds. One aspect of the Law Society debate was the competing considerations of TWU’s associational and religious rights, versus the rights of TWU staff and students to be free from discrimination.
The Law Society requested Andrew Pinto of Pinto Wray James LLP to prepare a legal opinion on human rights issues related to TWU’s accreditation by the Law Society of Upper Canada and a copy of that opinion can be found here.
TWU’s proposed law school received preliminary approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s Approval Committee in December 2013. On April 11, 2014, the British Columbia Law Society voted to accredit TWU. However, lawyers in BC have subsequently petitioned the BC Law Society to hold a special general meeting in which the TWU accreditation decision may be revisited. Recently, on April 25, 2014, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society narrowly voted 10 to nine in favour of granting accreditation to the university but only if it eliminates the Community Covenant.
The Law Society of New Brunswick decides on accreditation in June. TWU has the option of commencing an application for judicial review of the Law Society’s decision regarding accreditation.