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British Columbia Christian university that wants law school to sue B.C. law society over rejection

Trinity Western University president and chancellor Bob Kuhn at the university’s campus in Langley, B.C., Jan. 30, 2014.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Trinity Western University has announced it will commence legal action against the Law Society of B.C. over its decision not to approve a law school at the evangelical Christian university.

This is the third law society TWU is taking to court, along those of Nova Scotia and Ontario.

The proposed law school had earlier seemed a sure bet, having been approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, B.C.'s Ministry of Advanced Education and the Law Society of B.C.

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However, lawyers, members of the LGBTQ community and the public called the school inherently discriminatory, pointing to 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."

The chorus of opposition grew louder over the past year, leading the Law Society of B.C. and Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk to reverse their decisions. The law societies in Nova Scotia and Ontario voted not to approve the law school.

The university currently has no plans to sue B.C.'s Ministry of Advanced Education, but is considering all options, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Watton.

University Bob Kuhn said the school had no choice but to proceed legally.

"By prejudging our future law graduates not on their qualifications but the community covenant they agree to abide by while students at TWU, the Law Society has infringed on the human rights of TWU and its students," he said in a statement issued Thursday.

Clayton Ruby, a lawyer who has launched a legal challenge against the university and Mr. Virk, has said it is not about the quality of graduates the school would produce but the fact that gay students would be made to feel like second-class citizens while attending the university.

Also on Thursday, a lawyer for the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society told a Nova Scotia Supreme Court hearing the self-regulating body has the authority to deny accreditation to law school graduates from TWU because the society draws its authority from a section in the Legal Profession Act that says the purpose of the society is to uphold and protect the public interest in the practice of law.

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Hickey says the law society has broader powers than just overseeing the qualifications and conduct of its members.

She says the law society imposed the ban on students from the proposed law school at TWU because its requirement regarding heterosexual marriage represents unlawful discrimination under the charter and violates the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

Earlier this week, a lawyer for the university told the court the law society overstepped its jurisdiction when it decided in April to ban graduates from the bar admission program unless the school dropped the requirement.

Brian Casey said the law society has jurisdiction over its membership in Nova Scotia, nothing more.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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