The lawyers regulatory bodies in Ontario and Nova Scotia voted not to allow Trinity Western University trained lawyers practice in that province.
The Law Society of Upper Canada, in a 28-21 vote and the Law Society of Nova Scotia (10-9) voted against accreditation for TWUâ€™s law school.
â€œWe are very disappointed,â€ said TWU President Bob Kuhn, who was present at the LSUC Bencher meeting in Toronto April 24. â€œThese decisions impact all Canadians and people of faith everywhere. They send the chilling message that you cannot hold religious values and also participate fully in public society.â€
The LSUC started looking at the issue in January and voted April 24. Nova Scotia was April 25. Once again, Community Covenant at the private Christian university was the key point at issue.
The school requires students and staff to sign a Community Covenant which forbids gossip, obscene language, prejudice, harassment, lying, cheating, stealing, pornography, drunkenness and sexual intimacy â€œthat violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.â€
The arguments have been about balancing religious freedom with individual rights. Sexual orientation is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
â€œBenchers took this issue very seriously, and did not find it easy to reach a decision. As members of the legal profession, we recognize the entrenched values of Canadaâ€™s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Ontarioâ€™s Human Rights Code, including the right of equality and the right to freedom of religion, and the foundational nature of those rights to our democracy. In our deliberations, I believe it was clear that we listened carefully to the full diversity of views, and came to a decision only after a full consideration of the challenging issues raised by the TWU application,â€ said law society treasurer Thomas G. Conway.
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This could end up being decided in the courts. The university is looking at its options.
â€œThese provincial law societies are not the final authority. We feel the Ontario and Nova Scotia decisions are legally incorrect and it may now be necessary to re-litigate an issue that has already been decided in our favour by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001,â€ Kuhn said.
Other provinces have yet to make decisions on the TWU law school.
The Law Society of Manitoba will decide on the process for TWU accreditation starting May 22.
The Law Society of New Brunswick will meet June 27.
The Law Society of Alberta wonâ€™t delve into the issues, though.
â€œThe Law Society of Alberta delegated authority to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to approve Canadian common law degrees in December 2013. Our number one concern is the preservation of national mobility for lawyers across Canada. Common national standards across the country benefit lawyers as well as the clients they serve,â€ said communications manager Ally Taylor.
Itâ€™s the same for some other provinces, which let the federation decide.
TWU law graduates are already cleared to article and practice in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut.
Denying TWU accreditation in Ontario and Nova Scotia will create a patchwork system in which TWU graduates can practice law in some provinces but not others, Kuhn said.
TWU plans to move ahead with setting up the law school which it wants to have open for September 2016. It would be Canadaâ€™s first law school at a faith-based university.
In related news, Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan sought to get support from five per cent of the Law Society of B.C. members to force a special meeting. He wants the society to revote on its support for the TWU law school.
He achieved about double the number of support letters required. Under law society rules, the society is to convene this meeting. Specific details are yet to be worked out, but the meeting is to be held within 60 days of receipt of his request.