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Trinity Western head asks B.C. law society to uphold accreditation

Trinity Western University

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The president of Trinity Western University has made a "personal appeal" to members of the Law Society of B.C., urging them to vote against a resolution that would reject a law school at the Christian university.

The resolution seeks to overturn an April decision in which law society directors, known as benchers, voted to approve a law school at the university.

In his recent letter, university president Bob Kuhn calls on law-society members to reject the resolution, both to end a costly legal battle and support "true diversity" in the legal profession.

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"I recognize that in the political climate created by the requisition of this [special general meeting], voting 'no' may take courage," Mr. Kuhn said in his letter, which was posted this week on a TWU blog. "Defending minorities, like TWU's religious community, almost always does."

Law Society of B.C. members are scheduled to vote at a special general meeting on June 10.

Mr. Kuhn said "emotional opposition" to the school has arisen "because of one aspect of TWU's religious ethos, referenced by six words: 'between a man and a woman.'"

Those words reflect a conception of marriage that is common in the Christian faith and most other religions, he said, adding that "it would be unfair and discriminatory to preclude TWU graduates from practising law in B.C. because of a religious belief.

"While TWU's detractors profess tolerance, their opposition to TWU's religious beliefs and that of its students exhibits the opposite trait," he added.

The proposed law school is controversial because of Trinity Western's community covenant, under which students, staff and faculty agree to abstain from conduct including "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

Critics maintain that provision is discriminatory and amounts to a "do not enter" sign to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.

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The university, however, maintains its proposed law school has met every standard required of it and that it would be discriminatory to prevent TWU law graduates from practising law in B.C. or other provinces.

The proposed law school – which TWU would like to launch in September, 2016 – won preliminary approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada last December. It got a green light from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education the same month.

Since then, law societies in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have voted to accept TWU law graduates. The Law Society of Upper Canada, however, in April voted to ban TWU law graduates from articling or practising law in Ontario. Also in April, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society voted against approving the law school unless the university exempted law students from signing the community covenant or changed it "in a way that ceases to discriminate."

TWU is challenging the Nova Scotia and Ontario decisions in court.

On another legal front, Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby is representing a plaintiff who has filed a lawsuit against B.C.'s Ministry of Advanced Education challenging its approval of the school. TWU has been added as a respondent to that case and a hearing has been set for December, Mr. Ruby said Wednesday in an e-mail.

The pending vote in B.C. came about after a Victoria lawyer, who disagreed with the decision made by the law society, gathered enough signatures to force a special general meeting.

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Anticipating a strong turnout, the 13,000-member law society has put a fast-track registration process in place and has listed 16 locations around the province where members can vote.

If passed, the resolution is not binding on the benchers and would not immediately reverse the April decision. If a resolution is not "substantially implemented" within 12 months, it could be subject to a members' referendum.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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