Law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia dealt Trinity Western University (TWU) its first two setbacks this week in the battle over Canada’s first Christian law school.
The Law Society of Upper Canada on Thursday voted 28-21 not to allow TWU graduates admission to the bar in Ontario. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society did the same by a 10-9 vote Friday.
“We are very disappointed,” TWU president Bob Kuhn said. “These 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.”
Gay rights groups oppose the proposed law school because TWU requires employees and students to sign a community covenant pledging to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
The latest decisions come after a string of victories for TWU, Canada’s largest Christian university, which submitted its law-school proposal in 2012. Last December, TWU received back-to-back approvals from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Minister of Advanced Education in British Columbia. The Law Society of British Columbia followed with another approval on a 20-6 vote earlier this month, joining affirmation from five other provincial bodies of the federation—which essentially hold veto power over federation decisions.
But opponents are challenging two of those decisions. Last week, a gay activist in Vancouver filed suit against the Minister of Advanced Education in British Columbia, Amrik Virk, claiming TWU’s community covenant equates to a discriminatory admissions policy. And the Law Society of British Columbia must now convene a special proceeding to hear complaints about its two-week-old decision after receiving a petition with more than 1,000 signatures.
The accreditation denials in Ontario and Nova Scotia will have a limited effect since TWU has already secured mobility agreements, meaning students can pass the bar in one province and then move to practice law in another. But TWU says the decisions create a patchwork system. The school is weighing its options, including legal recourse.
“These provincial law societies are not the final authority,” said Kuhn, who was the lead attorney when TWU traveled to Canada’s high court to secure approval for an accredited teaching program in 2001. “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 favor by an 8-1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.”
TWU, founded in 1962 in Langley, British Columbia, plans to welcome a first class of about 60 students in the fall of 2016.