The Law Society of New Brunswick has voted to accredit the proposed law school at B.C.’s Trinity Western University.
The society’s council voted 14-5 to accredit the controversial program, which means graduates of TWU’s law school will be allowed to practise in that province.
Society president John Malone said the discussion and vote, which took place Friday at the society’s annual general meeting in Saint Andrews, was about ensuring the profession represents all of the communities that lawyers serve.
“This council always will recognize both religious freedoms and the right to sexual orientation without discrimination,” Mr. Malone said in a statement.
“No matter which law school they graduate from, all articled students complete law society training and evaluation. This includes the core aspects of professional responsibility, including non-discrimination. As well, the law society requires that lawyers not discriminate in their professional duties.”
The proposed law school – which would be the first faith-based law school in Canada – became a lightning rod for heated debate due to a line in the university’s community covenant that requires all students, administrators and faculty to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Critics say it is discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation; the university views the criticism as an attack on religious freedom.
The law society had received 96 written submissions and nine requests to address the council. University president Bob Kuhn, who was among the speakers, said members made their decision after “thoughtful and measured expression of views and careful consideration of reports and submissions.”
“When legal minds and due process are applied to this difficult decision involving fundamental rights and freedoms, the result has been a balancing of those rights and freedoms,” he said in a statement after the decision.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) granted the law school preliminary approval in December, but provincial law societies have final say by way of individual decisions on whether to recognize the school as an approved faculty of law.
Law societies in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and other provinces upheld the FLSC’s decision while Ontario and Nova Scotia refused; a special general meeting of B.C. law society members earlier this month voted to tell its board of directors, known as Benchers, to reverse their decision.
The university has filed lawsuits against the Nova Scotia and Ontario law societies and a constitutional challenge has been filed in B.C. over Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk’s approval of the school. The university’s Mr. Kuhn, Law Society of B.C. president Jan Lindsay and other legal experts believe the school’s fate will ultimately be determined in the Supreme Court of Canada.
The university is hoping to open the three-year program in September, 2016.