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Trinity Western University

The Law Society of B.C. will hold a referendum on the proposed law school at Trinity Western University after yet another vote on the fate of the contentious program.

The law society's board of directors – known as benchers – voted 20-10 in favour of the motion on Friday. The two other options presented were to implement an earlier, non-binding resolution by members to declare that the proposed law school is not an approved faculty of law, or postpone making a decision until the courts have ruled on the university's legal challenges to decisions by law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Friday's vote was the third since April by the governing body of B.C.'s lawyers on the proposed law school. At issue is a line in the evangelical Christian 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 inherently discriminatory against the LGBTQ community while supporters of the university invoke the freedom of religion.

The referendum will be binding if one-third of all members in good standing vote and two-thirds of those who vote do so in favour of the resolution. Ballots would be returnable on or before Oct. 29, according to the motion.

In April, the benchers voted 20-6 in favour of accrediting the law school – a move that angered critics across Canada. Victoria-based criminal defence lawyer Michael Mulligan initiated a petition, collecting enough signatures from members to convene a special general meeting of all law society members in B.C. That was held in June and produced a non-binding vote by lawyers directing benchers to declare that the school is not an approved faculty of law for the purposes of the law society's admissions program.

Tony Wilson, the bencher who put forward the motion calling for a new and binding referendum, said to turn the June vote by members into a binding resolution would disenfranchise those who chose not to vote because it was not intended to be binding. To wait for the courts would make the benchers look "unresponsive, undemocratic and indifferent."

"A binding referendum held by way of mail-in vote, and held immediately, expedites the referendum process already available under our legislation," Mr. Wilson said at Friday's meeting. "It allows every lawyer in B.C. to vote on this very, very important issue without leaving their offices. Every lawyer will know that there will be consequences to their vote, there will be no excuse not to vote and every vote will count."

Lawyer barbara findlay called the decision "a slap in the face of the legal profession."

"That the benchers would disrespect the overwhelming majority vote at the largest lawyer meeting in B.C. history is breathtaking," she said in a news release. "We will tell the benchers as many times as they need to hear it that their decision to accede to TWU's discriminatory policies is morally and legally wrong."

Mr. Mulligan called the decision "a disappointing abdication of responsibility of an important issue of principle for the legal profession."

Lawyer Joseph Arvay defended the June resolution by saying the considerable turnout for that vote makes it "deserving of the highest degree of deference – and indeed, as much that would occur were there to be a referendum.

"In my view, there has, in effect, been that referendum."

TWU president Bob Kuhn, who believes the Supreme Court of Canada will likely determine the fate of the faith-based law school, remains optimistic it will open in the fall of 2016.