British Columbia’s lawyers have voted against a controversial, faith-based law school in the province’s Fraser Valley.
Members of the Law Society of B.C. voted 3,210 to 968 in Tuesday’s special general meeting to oppose accreditation for Trinity Western University.
The vote is non-binding but directs the society’s board of directors, known as Benchers, to declare that TWU is not an approved faculty of law for the purposes of the law society’s admissions program.
“The decision regarding whether to admit graduates from the proposed law school at TWU is a Bencher decision,” society president Jan Lindsay said in a statement.
“However, the Benchers will give the result of today’s members’ meeting serious and thoughtful consideration.”
The special general meeting was the society’s first in 12 years, convened after Victoria-based lawyer Michael Mulligan collected written requests from more than 1,500 members.
In April, Benchers had voted to accredit the proposed law school, which angered critics across Canada who viewed a line in the university’s community covenant that prohibits “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” as discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation.
Under society rules, a special general meeting is required if requested by at least 5 per cent, or roughly 650, of its members.
At the Vancouver Convention Centre, Mr. Mulligan told the room that, in his view, the concern is not with the religious views of faculty or students, but with the conduct of the university as an institution.
“Our task is to assess the conduct of the university in order to determine if its approval would further the objects and duties of the law society,” he said.
“On that score, there is no need for speculation and the answer is no.”
Barbara Findlay, who refers to herself as a “lesbian lawyer,” said she supports religious freedoms, telling the crowd, “You have every right to believe that I am a sinner. But when your discriminatory beliefs turn into actions that discriminate against someone, that’s where you cross the line.”
Lindsay Lister, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said it was important to recognize that the debate over the law school is not an “us versus them issue.”
“There are LGBTQ people in the lineup encouraging you to vote no; I am one of them,” she said. “I am confident there are people of faith in the lineup urging you to vote yes.
“In my submission, to vote in favour of the resolution would be to direct Benchers to discriminate against TWU, its faculty and students, on the basis of their conscientiously held religious beliefs.”
TWU president Bob Kuhn, who has spoken at law societies across Canada defending the school, apologized to the room “for any hurt caused by people who hold themselves out as supporters.”
In a pluralistic society, Mr. Kuhn said, the rights and freedoms of all people must be protected.
“This is not a matter of personal preference, political persuasion or even public opinion,” he said. “As lawyers, we have a duty to ensure the rights and freedoms of all people are protected.” Those rights and freedoms include those of faculty and prospective students of TWU’s law school, he said.
In all, thousands of law-society members – including 642 in Vancouver – participated in Tuesday’s special general meeting.
While a resolution of such a meeting is not binding on the Benchers, members do have the option of requesting a referendum if Benchers have not “substantially implemented” the resolution within a year of its adoption, according to the Legal Profession Act.
The law school would be at the university’s main campus in Langley, B.C., and accept 60 students a year in a three-year program commencing September, 2016, according to TWU’s proposal.