For the second time in two days, a provincial law society has refused to accredit a faith-based law school over concerns it would discriminate against gays and lesbians, dealing a jarring blow to Trinity Western University’s plans.
The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society voted 10-9 on Friday to deny approval of the proposed law school unless the university would agree to drop a controversial policy barring same-sex intimacy. As Trinity Western, a private evangelical Christian school in Langley, B.C., has no plans to change its rules, the vote amounts to a refusal.
The decision came one day after the Law Society of Upper Canada, the country’s largest law society, regulating 46,000 lawyers in Ontario, voted 28-21 against accrediting the proposed law school, effectively barring future graduates from practising in the province. The rulings threaten to splinter a national system for licensing lawyers that was only recently established.
After nearly four hours of passionate debate on Friday, Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society president René Gallant told reporters Trinity Western has refused to budge on its controversial community covenant, a code of conduct all staff and students must sign that prohibits “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” – which many have decried as discriminatory.
“Now that they know our position they will have a decision to make,” Mr. Gallant said.
Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn said the refusals “send the chilling message that you cannot hold religious values and also participate fully in public society.”
The refusals from Ontario and Nova Scotia conflict with approvals already granted by law societies in B.C., Alberta and elsewhere, splintering the licensing process for lawyers and creating “a patchwork system in which TWU graduates can practise law in some provinces but not others,” according to Trinity Western.
Canada recently sealed national mobility agreements that allow lawyers licensed in one province to practise across the country, but “this begins to stretch the fabric of mobility,” said Don Thompson, executive director of the Law Society of Alberta.
Chase Arnesen, an openly gay Halifax lawyer who was raised a devout Mormon and attended a U.S.-based Christian university with a similar covenant, says that, “having lived in both worlds,” Nova Scotia’s ruling “is right.”
“I think the decision sent a message that Nova Scotia will welcome and support all views, and that there’s room for everyone,” Mr. Arnesen said.
But Gavin Giles, a Halifax lawyer, spoke at length on Friday in favour of granting accreditation. He asked, rhetorically, why Nova Scotia would second-guess the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, a national body, which approved Trinity Western late last year.
“Because it feels good? Because we feel that it is a politically popular decision for us to make? … Because Ontario did it in a forum, I suggest, of nauseating bluster and inefficiency, or simply because we see our professional regulation differently?” he said.
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