B.C. lawyers have voted 74 per cent against recognizing Trinity Western University’s proposed law school for the Law Society of B.C.’s admissions program.
The law school has been controversial because the Langley Christian university’s community covenant bans sex outside of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Critics say that discriminates against gays and lesbians.
The Law Society of B.C.’s board of governors voted 25-1 Friday with four abstentions to uphold the referendum outcome and rescind their previously granted accreditation of TWU’s law school.
A total of 5,951 lawyers voted in favour of the declaration against the faith-based law school in the referendum, while 2,088 were against it.
The mail-in ballot required a minimum one-third participation of the 13,530 practising, non-practising and retired lawyers who were eligible, and a two-thirds majority to pass.
The referendum was ordered after thousands of lawyers demanded the law profession’s regulatory body reconsider its earlier decision.
“It is a proud day to be a lawyer,” said lesbian lawyer Barbara Findlay, who said the covenant promising not to have sex outside heterosexual marriage discriminates not just against homosexual couples, but heterosexual common-law couples as well.
“Respect for equality is a foundation principle of the rule of law and should be a foundation principle of the legal profession,” lawyer Michael Mulligan said.
The law school was approved by the provincial government in late 2013 but the law society controls who can practise as a lawyer in B.C.
Asked if the province may now reverse its approval, Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk said he will give the law society’s decision “due consideration.”
Virk’s earlier approval followed the recommendation of the Degree Quality Assessment Board and the preliminary approval of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
The law school was to open in the fall of 2016.
“The University is disappointed with this vote”, said TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold. “Trinity Western believes in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their personal beliefs and values. A person’s ability to study and practise the law should not be restricted by their faith.”
TWU’s law school is also being blocked by law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia and the university has mounted court challenges that could end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
TWU previously won a Supreme Court of Canada victory in 2001 on grounds of religious freedom over its faith-based teacher training program, which the B.C. College of Teachers had refused to recognize.