Michelle Stephenson, Summer Law Student
After heated debate, the Law Society of Upper Canada has voted against accrediting a new law school being created at Trinity Western University (TWU), a private, Christian, educational institution. Specifically, the debate has centered around the school’s Christian community covenant, to be signed by students attending the school. Among other things, the covenant includes a promise not to engage in same sex sexual acts, as well as urging students to ensure that their peers adhere to the covenant.
Not surprisingly, those on both sides of the issue presented strong opinions. Ultimately the vote in Ontario was 28-21 to reject TWU’s bid. This means that graduates of TWU’s law school will not be allowed to practise law in Ontario.
On the TWU side of the debate, many people focused on the previous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in a similar situation and on the fact that several other law societies have already voted to accredit the school. Some argued that the Law Society was bound by the law and that even if they were personally opposed to the school’s policy, there was no legal basis to reject it. The school itself also argued that there was no logical basis to reject its accreditation, stating that religious affiliation would not affect its ability to teach students to think critically about ethical issues and that there is no reason to believe its graduates would go on to exhibit discriminatory attitudes.
On the other hand, many LSUC benchers expressed concern over keeping the legal profession non-discriminatory and open to minorities. They pointed to the duty of law societies to uphold the principles of diversity and equal access to the profession. There was concern, for example, that students who realized they were gay while already attending TWU would be disadvantaged and potentially targeted. Additionally, concerns were expressed over the potential discriminatory effect of TWU’s policy in who would attend the school and on the legal profession after their graduation.
While the votes have been cast in Ontario, as well as several other provinces, the debate is far from over. In British Columbia, where the law society voted for accreditation, a petition of 1,177 requests for reconsideration has brought the issue back into question. In Ontario, it cannot yet be certain whether the law society’s decision will stand.
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