Canadian provinces block accreditation of Christian law school over homosexuality views

Law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have refused to recognise the law degrees of students from a proposed new Christian law school because of its parent university's teachings on homosexuality.

Trinity Western University (TWU) institutes what it calls a "community covenant" where students and staff are asked to refrain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

While the proposed TWU School of Law, has been accredited by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the British Columbian Ministry of Advanced Education, others have not been supportive.

Last week, ten members of Nova Scotia Barrister's Society agreed to conditionally accredit the university, based on its dropping of its community covenant, while nine members voted to completely deny accreditation.

When the Law Society of Upper Canada moved to vote on the issue, they were addressed by TWU's president Bob Kuhn, who was quoted by the Peterborough Examiner as saying: "If the opponents of Trinity Western Law School are permitted to impose their value judgements on the minority as proposed, then religious communities, organizations and individuals who dare to maintain their religious principals will be excluded from full participation in our pluralistic society.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, would be a travesty in a free and democratic society,"

However the LSUC disagreed with his views, and voted 28 to 21 with one abstention against crediting TWU's proposed new law college.

One member of the LSUC's bench, Howard Goldblatt, was quoted in the Globe and Mail saying: "‎I cannot vote to accredit a law school which seeks to control students in their bedrooms."

Dean Del Mastro, a Conservative Canadian MP for the Ontario constituency of Peterborough said to Parliament last week: "Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms constitutionally guarantees freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination.

"As such, I stand in this House urging both of these societies to change course and respect the enshrined rights of Trinity Western University graduates."

Prominent Canadian lawyer Clayton Ruby wrote to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada with three other lawyers to protest their acceptance of TWU.

Their letter, which was quoted in The Star said: "It is just wrong to have a law school approve discrimination in its own structure. That kind of discrimination, which denies some people the right to equality, is fundamentally inconsistent with law and democracy.

"This alone makes it incompetent to deliver legal education in the public interest."

TWU has on several occasions come in first place in surveys examining levels of student satisfaction.

In the Canadian University Consortium's 2013 survey, who spoke to 15,000 student from over 30 universities, TWU came first in responses to questions including "At this university, professors treat students as individuals, not just numbers", "I am satisfied with the quality of teaching I have received", and "Has your experience at this university met, exceeded, or fallen short of your expectation?"

There is concern that the decision to accredit by some law societies but not others, jeopardise new so called "mobility agreements" whereby a lawyer is permitted to work across all Canada if they are accredited in a single state.

The Law Society of Alberta was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying that this disagreement over TWU represents a "direct threat" to such agreements.

This is not the first time that TWU has received this kind of attention. In 2001, TWU did not receive accreditation from the British Columbia College of Teachers because they felt that to do so would violate their own anti-discrimination policy.

The court agreed that what TWU was doing violated the British Columbia human rights code. However because of a legal exemption for religious institutions, the case against TWU was unsuccessful.

Janet Epp Buckingham, an associate professor at TWU, said in The Star: "I would argue what the court said was that TWU, as a Christian university, had the right to have Christian principles as a foundation for the university."

The TWU's law school is planned to open in 2016.

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