British Columbia's Minister of Advanced Education is considering revoking his consent for the proposed law school at Trinity Western University – a move that would strip the Christian school of its authority to offer law degree programs or grant law degrees in the province.
In a letter sent to TWU president Bob Kuhn this week and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Amrik Virk noted that the university has launched legal challenges against the law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia and intends to launch one against the benchers of the Law Society of B.C. The lawsuits are part of the battle between the school and lawyers who argue TWU's community covenant discriminates against gay students.
Mr. Virk wrote that it is unlikely the court actions over the societies' decisions to deny accreditation to the school's graduates will be completed before the expiry date of the conditional consent he granted on Dec. 18.
"As you are aware under the terms and conditions of consent TWU must enroll students within three years from the date of consent," Mr. Virk wrote in his letter. "As a result, I am considering revoking my consent for TWU's proposed law program."
The law society votes in Ontario and Nova Scotia would prevent TWU law graduates from practising there. The Law Society of B.C. voted in the spring to accredit the school, but reversed its decision after an outcry.
The controversy stems from a line in the university's 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."
Earlier this year, the school's accreditation appeared assured because it had received the approval it required from three bodies: the ministry, the Federation of Canadian Law Societies and the B.C. law society.
A legal challenge launched against the minister and TWU by two Canadian law firms says Mr. Virk "created a two-tiered system of legal education" when he granted consent .
Clayton Ruby, the lawyer leading the challenge, said an openly gay student would be "treated like a second-class citizen." The case is to be argued on Dec. 1, and Mr. Ruby said on Tuesday he believes the minister is backing down because he recognizes that it is "impossible" for the province to win it.
Mr. Ruby said the ministry should have foreseen such a scenario and wondered why it did not act sooner. After Law Society of B.C. benchers voted to accredit the school in April, members in June convened a special general meeting and voted to direct the benchers to reverse the decision. In July, Mr. Virk wrote to Mr. Kuhn saying that should benchers do so, "that would constitute a substantive change to the program that may require further consideration of the consent granted under the Degree Authorization Act."
"Why did it take them so long?" Mr. Ruby said. "Granted, you're up against the deadline of our lawsuit, but why wait for that deadline? Why not act like a competent minister?"
Mr. Virk was not available for an interview on Tuesday.
Mr. Kuhn said the letter came as a surprise and the school will consider its next steps as it proceeds with legal challenges. When asked if the university would consider removing the offending line from the covenant, he said it will fight to maintain its traditional Christian beliefs.
"If society is going to remove the ability to maintain traditional religious belief, it needs to have better grounds than just, 'Times have changed,'" he said. "This is not a matter of six words; this is a matter of religious freedoms being exercised by a university whose purpose is to be a Christian University."
The university has until Nov. 28 to give Mr. Virk written submissions on the matter. If consent is revoked, the school can reapply after the legal challenges are resolved.