Trinity Western University has scored a victory in Nova Scotia, where a Supreme Court judge has ruled that the province's law society does not have the authority to deny accrediting graduates from its proposed law school.
The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society in April had voted to approve accreditation of the B.C. Christian school, but only if it dropped a line from its community covenant requiring all students, administrators and faculty to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
In a decision handed down Wednesday, Justice Jamie Campbell said the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society (NSBS) has no authority to require the school to change its policy.
"It could not pass a regulation requiring TWU to change its community covenant any more than it could pass a regulation purporting to dictate what professors should be granted tenure at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhouse University, what fees should be charged by the University of Toronto Law School, or the admissions policies of McGill," Justice Campbell wrote in a 138-page ruling.
"The legislation, quite sensibly, does not contain any mechanism for recognition or enforcement of NSBS regulations purporting to control how university law grads operate because it was never intended that they would be subject to its control."
A lawyer for the law society had argued last month that it did have such power because it 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.
TWU spokesman Guy Saffold called Wednesday's decision "exceptionally important."
Justice Campbell also took the unusual step of concluding the lengthy written decision with a passage on tolerance and equality.
"Unless tolerance engages the incomprehensible, the contemptible or the detestable, it is nothing much more than indifference," he wrote. "It isn't a line. It's a process. And it's one that invites and almost requires a level of discomfort."
The law society said it will review the decision with legal counsel before determining its next steps.
The controversial law school has been debated among law societies across Canada. In addition to Nova Scotia, the matter has also reached the courts in B.C. and Ontario. Last month, Amrik Virk, then minister of advanced education, announced he had revoked his consent for the school, citing the ongoing legal challenges.
A law school must receive approval from three bodies: the ministry, the provincial law society and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
Clayton Ruby, a prominent civil-rights and criminal lawyer who is leading one court challenge against the university, said Wednesday that Justice Campbell's decision reflects a societal view of decades past. He is asking the Supreme Court of British Columbia to consolidate several petitions and applications so that all arguments against the law school can be heard together.
The Law Society of B.C. is reviewing Wednesday's decision and will continue following proceedings in other jurisdictions, spokesman Ryan-Sang Lee said.
Andrew Wilkinson, who was named minister of advanced education last month, declined to comment on whether B.C. should have originally granted consent for the law school.
"We've got the internal processes of the 13 different law societies across the country to deal with; they are self-governing professions and they will make up their own minds," said Mr. Wilkinson, a former lawyer. "We're really waiting for all of that process to go through the numerous steps that it's facing, including subsequent litigation. We have to live in the present to make policy for the future, so we deal with the fact that [the decisions made so far] stand."