A proposed law school at a B.C. Christian university that critics accuse of being discriminatory against the LGBTQ community has cleared its final hurdle with approval by the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education.
Minister Amrik Virk announced his decision to green-light a law school at Trinity Western University in Langley on Wednesday, two days after the private faith-based university won preliminary approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Critics have argued that a covenant requiring all students, staff and faculty at the school abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Virk said he is aware of the opposition by LGBTQ advocates and members of the legal profession but made his decision based on the approvals by the Federation and the Degree Quality Assessment Board.
“My responsibility was to approve or not approve this degree according to the established criteria that was reviewed by the Degree Quality Assessment Board,” he said. “The board found that the proposed new law program at Trinity Western University meets the degree program quality assessment criteria for private and out-of-province public institutions. And, the board provided the recommendation to approve.
“Furthermore,” he continued, “the review by the [Federation] confirmed graduates of the proposed law program could meet the national standards to practice law in Canada.”
The opposition to the program does not fall within the scope of the quality of the law degree or academic programming and is therefore outside the purview of the government, Mr. Virk said.
“The Ministry of Advanced Education and the Degree Quality Assessment Board base their views solely on the quality of the program,” he said.
The controversial program has led some in the legal profession to question whether it is appropriate to teach contemporary, constitutional law in such a venue, and whether the school’s principles could narrow a graduate’s job prospects. Jason Gratl, a prominent criminal and civil-rights lawyer with Vancouver-based firm Gratl and Company, for example, says he would be hesitant to hire a graduate from Trinity Western’s law school.
“It seems to me when you have restrictive entrance requirements, you lose a lot of very qualified teachers and students and the quality of the education just deteriorates,” he said.
The private school, which does not receive operating or capital funding from the government, has argued that students choose to adhere when they apply. As well, Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn says his university has been educating successful teachers and nurses for years, and that what is being attacked is the university’s faith-based values.
“If we're going to have pluralism in a country that reflects the diversity and mosaic of Canadian language, Canadian culture and Canadian religion, then we really have to be prepared to accept a broad range of views on subjects, some of which are highly personal and emotional,” he said.
He also stressed that at Trinity Western, “lawyers will be trained in the same skills as they would at a secular university,” only with “more credence given to some Biblical, Christian perspectives.”
The Council of Canadian Law Deans has said publicly that Trinity Western’s covenant is “fundamentally at odds with the core values of all Canadian law schools.” Its president, Bill Flanagan, who is also dean of law at Queen’s University, said in an interview he personally believes “it's denying to gay and lesbian people the ability to fundamentally express who they are, and to say that that is somehow not discriminatory or has no adverse impact on them is nonsense.”
Mr. Flanagan also criticized the decision of the Federation’s special committee that “there is no public interest reason to exclude future graduates of the TWU program” from bar admission, even though it concluded that LGBT students “would legitimately feel unwelcome at a TWU law school.”
“To suggest that this is not a matter of public interest, I find that very troubling,” he said.
Toronto criminal and civil-rights lawyer Clayton Ruby has called the covenant “a simple act of discrimination against gays and lesbians” and said earlier in the week “there will be a lawsuit launched” should B.C. green-light the school.
Mr. Virk said he is aware of the potential legal challenge.
“Many of the potential legal issues were identified in the [Federation’s] special report,” he said. “If a legal challenge is advanced, this will be a matter for the courts to decide.”
An online fundraising campaign aiming to raise $30,000 to launch a legal challenge had raised $3,500 by late Wednesday afternoon.
The school is aiming to launch the program in September, 2016, Mr. Virk said.