Trinity Western University in Langley has won approval to build the first faith-based law school in the country, winning required endorsements from both the provincial government and the national body that represents Canadian lawyers.
On Wednesday, Dec. 18, Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk announced approval of the proposed law program.
At an afternoon press briefing, Virk said his decision was based on a review by the Degree Quality Assessment Board, the provincial ministry of education agency that conducts quality assessments of proposed new degree programs at private and public post-secondary institutions, as well as the approval of the new law school by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the national co-ordinating body for 14 provincial and territorial law societies that governs over 100,000 lawyers and 4,000 Quebec notaries.
Virk said he was aware of the opposition to the law school by some groups and individuals who have complained the TWU school cannot teach students to protect human rights when it also maintains what some have called an anti-gay policy.
That issue was beyond the scope of the review, Virk said.
"They [the complaints] don't relate to the academic quality of the program," Virk said.
"My decision is based solely on the degree quality review."
That review was focused on whether the proposed course would have sufficient instructors and adequate "academic rigor," Virk said.
The Degree Quality Assessment Board review found that the TWU course met the quality standards for "private and out-of-province public institutions," Virk said, calling Trinity Western University "a faith-based, private university that does not receive operating or capital funding from government."
Based on the board finding, and the review by the Federation of Law Societies that found that TWU law graduates could meet the national standards to practice law, approval was granted, Virk said.
The provincial accreditation came two days after TWU announced (on Monday, Dec. 16) that the school had the endorsement of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
No more regulatory hurdles remain for the law school, which is expected to open in September, 2016.
Earlier this year more than 1,000 students at eight Canadian law schools signed letters opposing the proposed TWU law school, arguing the the university's student handbook discriminates against gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.
The handbook contains a clause that required all TWU students to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
A student who breaks the pledge could be expelled.
At the Wednesday press briefing, Virk noted there have been threats of legal action if the law school was approved, but would not speculate on the government's position in that event.
TWU President Bob Kuhn (pictured at left) also referred to the controversy in a written statement.
“We recognize that there has been considerable debate with respect to the fact that TWU is a faith-based university," Kuhn said.
"Now that the Federation has approved the program, we can move on from that debate and build an excellent law school to serve the Canadian public.”
TWU issued a written statement earlier in the year that said gay and lesbian students are welcome to attend the university.
"We do not ask about a prospective student’s sexual orientation, and many gay and lesbian students have graduated from our university," the statement read.
"Prospective students who do not agree with our religious views are welcome to apply to another university … "
The designs for the new School of Law Building include a 14,250 square-foot law library and 200-seat lecture theatre.
Current plans call for 60 first-year law students to begin studies in 2016.
The TWU School of Law will offer what are described as unique courses in charities/not-for-profit law and entrepreneurial law.
In the United States, roughly a quarter of the country's 200 law faculties are religious-affiliated law schools.