Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school has sparked debate across the country, not only in British Columbia, where it will operate, but also in Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) held a public meeting recently and opened the floor to the public and legal professionals to present their concerns and opinions about the implications of TWU’s Christian mandate. In addition, there were several written reviews submitted to the Society in previous weeks.
TWU is a private Christian university and part of their faith-based mandate includes a community covenant that outlines values and principles that staff and students must espouse. The agreement, which requires signatories to abstain from, “Sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and woman,” has created tension among the public and legal community, and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s (FLSC) approval of the university’s law school this past December has exacerbated the dispute. The FLSC approval committee concluded that TWU has the capacity to provide a quality education to its student body, comparable to other Canadian law schools, however, the decision to recognize students with degrees from TWU falls under provincial jurisdiction.
Some provinces, including British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario have requested external input before making an official decision about whether they will accept TWU-educated law students, yet, whereas other provinces have chosen simply to accept FLSC’s decision.
Gathering public opinion on these issues is theoretically understandable, however, ultimately, the decision should be consistent with the FLSC. This would not only ensure that lawyers can continue to practice throughout the country, but also it upholds religious freedoms, which are entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As long TWU graduates represent Canada’s legal principles and abide by Canadian rules and regulations, personal beliefs are irrelevant.
For instance, refusing to recognize law degrees from a Christian university illustrates another form of discrimination. Although TWU requires students to espouse the values outlined in the university’s community covenant, they continue to accept gay and lesbian students that choose to study there. The province’s should also accept lawyers with varying beliefs and opinions, so long as they are able to put them aside to uphold the law. Diversity includes accepting differing religious beliefs and censuring prospective law students from studying in a religious setting is adverse to the principle.
Nevertheless, debate over this issue is certain to continue and some provinces are just beginning the process already begun British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. While there has been support of, and opposition to, TWU’s proposed law school in Nova Scotia, however, it appears that the provincial government will discredit law degrees based on discrimination against the LGBT community. In any case, the government will decide in April and it will be interesting to see whether popular opinion influences the NSBS, causing it to lose sight of the fact that TWU law graduates will receive an acceptable legal education and compelling it to focus solely on their personal beliefs.
Rachel Lowe is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute