This has been a pretty awful week for Canada’s newest would-be law school:
Nova Scotia’s law society has voted to approve accreditation of Trinity Western University law school, but only if it drops the controversial policy prohibiting same-sex intimacy that some say is discriminatory.
Ten members of the council of Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society voted to conditionally accredit, while nine voted against allowing graduates from the faith-based Trinity Western University to practise in the province.
The decision follows that by Ontario’s law society to refuse to accredit the new law school.
The law society’s ruling could create turmoil on a national scale. Some lawyers have voiced concerns that having some provincial law societies deny accreditation when other provincial societies have granted it could threaten a new national mobility regime that allows lawyers licensed in one province to practise across Canada. The system took more than a decade to establish, and leaders of the Law Society of Alberta have warned that a decision such as the LSUC’s could pose a “direct threat” to mobility agreements.
Anger over Trinity Western’s plans has focused on the university’s community covenant, a document requiring all staff and students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Detractors say allowing Trinity Western to train only those law students who agree to abide by the covenant is discriminatory.
TWU will probably challenge these decisions in court, but it’s not clear whether the school will be successful. (Paul Daly of Administrative Law Matters thinks a decision either way by the Law Society of Upper Canada would be upheld by the courts.)
As I wrote a few months ago, I’m downright enthusiastic about Canada getting a law school with a distinctly Christian, conservative perspective. But I just can’t get past a “covenant” that clearly discriminates against prospective students who are gay. I think the Nova Scotia decision, which puts the onus on TWU to change or eliminate the covenant, is the right way to approach this issue.
Trinity Western could resolve this dispute with just a small wording change:
In keeping with biblical and TWU ideals, community members voluntarily abstain from the following actions:
- sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage
between a man and a woman
There may be some who bristle at the idea of a faith-based university being recognized at all (which would be bad news for St. FX, St. Mary’s, Mount Saint Vincent…), while others say they oppose any kind of guidelines governing students’ behavior at all. (The Globe and Mail quotes one TWU opponent as saying “I cannot vote to accredit a law school which seeks to control students in their bedrooms.” Taken to its logical extreme, that would prohibit university policies governing sexual consent, a fact of life at almost every school.)
But simply excising these six words from the covenant would almost certainly take care of the school’s accreditation problem, while allowing it to retain its uniquely Christian character. If they don’t budge, that will say a lot about their priorities.
And I’m afraid this is just the beginning for Trinity Western. As more people adopt the view that discrimination against gays and lesbians is akin to racial and sexual discrimination, other professions and even university athletic administrations will do what law societies have started.