‘It’s a tough one’

Rosie Mullaley
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Law Society of N.L. to vote on whether to accept grads from school that forbids homosexuality

The association that regulates the practice of legal professionals in this province is considering whether or not to accept graduates from a university that doesn’t tolerate homosexuality.

The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador will vote next month on whether to approve graduates from a proposed law school at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, B.C., to practise here.

TWU plans to open its law school in 2016.

Benchers in this province — similar to a board of directors — are scheduled to meet June 6 to vote.

“I have to say it’s a tough one,” said Don Downer of Corner Brook, one of 21 benchers who will vote.

“It’s not something I’m going to make up my mind without giving it second thought.”

While TWU — a privately owned Christian school — has been lauded for its quality academic and athletic programs, its strict religious rules have triggered controversy across Canada.

TWU requires students and staff to sign a “community covenant,” a contractual agreement that includes a provision prohibiting “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Many groups across Canada are appalled provinces would even consider accepting students from a school that discriminates based on sexual orientation. They call it institutional bullying.

Others, however, say rejecting graduates would penalize students for their religious beliefs.

Of the 21 benchers in this province, Downer is one of four laypeople who are appointed to protect the public trust.

He sees both sides of the issue.

“I understand there’s an aversion … and I have some problems (with TWU’s covenant),” said Downer, a retired professor of Memorial University’s Grenfell College campus in Corner Brook, who holds a doctorate in education.

“But this is a bonafide university. They have a curriculum which they would have the law school follow, so why should it matter what goes on religiously or otherwise?”

Ken Baggs, president of the provincial law society, opted not to comment, and instead directed questions to executive director Brenda Grimes, who is out of the country until Monday.

However, Baggs did point out that there has been plenty of discussion about the issue and said the society will likely consult its membership before voting.

The Law Society of Upper Canada — Ontario’s regulatory body — recently voted 28-21 to deny graduates of the Christian university’s planned law school the right to practise in Ontario. Many members condemned TWU’s policy, calling it “abhorrent.”

The Nova Scotia Barristers Society conditionally voted to approve accreditation of TWU’s law school — but only if it drops the policy prohibiting same-sex intimacy.

The Law Society of British Columbia had originally voted — by a 20-6 margin — to approve lawyers from TWU. However, last week, it agreed to hold another vote after overwhelming backlash from the legal community, calling for the society to withdraw its approval.

The Law Society of New Brunswick is expected to vote June 27.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see several second votes,” Downer said.

“I’m not sure if the Supreme Court of Canada would have anything to say about it.”

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that B.C. could not refuse to accredit teaching graduates from TWU because of its covenant.

However, some believe that decision would be different if voted on today, because gay and lesbian rights have seen so much advancement.

Josh Eddy, publisher of the ‘Out’port Magazine — the province’s only lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) publication — said the right decision would be to deny Trinity Western University graduates from practising here.

“If (the law society) agreed to this, it would be disappointing,” he said.

“This province has been very progressive, especially in recent years, when it comes to our laws and support of the LGBT community.

“What if women weren’t allowed to study there? Would those lawyers, whose members are supposed to help uphold the law, go along with that?

“So, I think (benchers here) should take a good hard look at this … because their decision should reflect the values of the community as a whole.”



Twitter: @TelyCourt @TelyCourt


Who gets to vote

Benchers of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador include 17 lawyers and four members of the public. They are:

Eastern District: Barry G Fleming, QC, Susan M LeDrew, Liam P. O’Brien, Anne Martin, Kenneth L. Baggs, QC, R. Paul Burgess, Ian C. Wallace,     Donovan F. Molloy, Amy M. Crosbie, Donald E. Anthony, Leanne M. O’Leary and Kenneth W. Jerrett

Central District: Marcus A. Evans and Kevin T.A. Preston

Western District: Shawn C.A. Colbourne, QC    

Appointed benchers: Don Downer, Linda Harnett, Glenda Reid and Bert Riggs

The Labrador District: Adrienne Edmunds

Organizations: Grenfell College, Trinity Western University, Christian school Supreme Court of Canada Christian university Nova Scotia Barristers Society

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Corner Brook, Canada Langley Ontario British Columbia New Brunswick Labrador District

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Recent comments

  • Voice of Reason
    May 05, 2014 - 10:01

    Donald Sterling doesn't believe black people should attend Clippers games... Trinity Western doesn't believe that married gay people should attend their university... Why is this a debate? You should be able to deny anyone service you don't like.

    • Str8 lawyer
      May 05, 2014 - 10:26

      Can a lawyer from Trinity Western effectively represent gay clients? Prosecute hate crimes against gays? Advocate for gay individuals to be equally employed? If a Trinity Western lawyer makes the bench, can they put aside their homophobic indoctrination? I'm not so sure.

  • Really?
    May 04, 2014 - 14:24

    So in other words, if you HAVE to accept homosexuality or you will not be allowed to practice law in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Isn't that forcing your beliefs on somebody else? It has nothing to do with colour or male/female. This is based strictly on religious beliefs...the same way the crosses had to be removed from schools, school names had to be changed...I think to deny accredited lawyers from practicing law because of their religious beliefs is denying them their rights. Just saying...

    • Maggy Carter
      May 05, 2014 - 09:19

      No, there is no requirement that you accept homosexuality as a condition of practicing law in this province. You are not only free to hold such beliefs privately but to assert them publicly. Your lack of respect for gay rights puts you at odds with Canada's constitution and in disagreement with an overwhelming majority of Canadians, but the same constitution also respects free speech - as long as it does not rise to the level of hate speech. But this issue is not about free speech, it is about the right of a university to bar entry to applicants on the basis of sexual orientation. It is a also question of whether a professional body whose principal responsibility it is not to bring the practice of law in this province into disrepute, has a duty to refuse accreditation to graduates of a university that openly discriminates, and encourages its students to discriminate, against a protected class of citizens. But yes you are right in one respect. The university takes the position that Charter protections relating to sexual orientation are subordinate to the Charter protection of religious freedom. Ultimately it will be the Supreme Court of Canada that must determine the balance when rights collide. Some such challenges to the Supreme Court might prove 'tough'. This is unlikely to be one of them. If and when asked to uphold a decision by law societies across Canada to reject institutionalized discrimination (by refusing accreditation to universities that discriminate against gays), it is likely that the court will do so. Part of its reasoning could well be that a law society requirement that applicants be graduates of a university that does not actively discriminate against gays is not unreasonable or prejudicial, and that fulfilling that requirement does not obligate applicants to renounce or abandon their religious convictions.

    • MarkC
      May 05, 2014 - 10:17

      One should never hide behind "Religious beliefs" as a rational for homophobic, racist etc. beliefs.

  • MarkG
    May 04, 2014 - 12:40

    The Law Society is unsure whether it will vote in support of "institutionalized discrimination"?! At least when the vote comes down we will know the names of the people who were present for the vote.

  • Donna Thistle
    May 04, 2014 - 12:28

    Don, This decision may have been difficult 40 years ago; the society we find ourselves in to day has become so much more inclusive of all kinds of diversity (thankfully,) I expect the majority of our citizens would support your vote against giving these graduates a licence to practice law in NL Thank you for putting your misgivings out there so that we have a forum to inform your decision. Respect diversity, vote no.

  • J
    May 03, 2014 - 22:48

    Personally I could care less about who puts what where but this is a manufactured issue. Read the covenant. It is basically requiring celibacy. This is only going to get better. If one was a graduate of this university and not permitted to practice law in a province they only have to go to the provincial human rights commission and assert that they are being discriminated against because they are Christians or Muslims. Should be interesting. Last I check being gay didn't, as of yet, get one on the visible minority list so comparisons of to not accepting women and blacks doesn't fit. No worse than the RCMP not accepting white, male applicants in the 1990's. Wasn't much of an uproar though when they are putting whitey down.

    • Maggy Carter
      May 05, 2014 - 08:30

      You need to check again. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act and, in this province, under the NL Human Rights Act. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides defacto protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

  • Glenn Stockley
    May 03, 2014 - 18:16

    Why so tough. They have no problem ignoring legitimate complaints against their members. Biggest bunch of lying hypocrites around.

  • Anonymous Lawyer
    May 03, 2014 - 17:35

    This TWU controversy has brought out many issues and many perspectives. With respect, it seems like many have failed to consider the key problem that I see. No one is prohibiting Christian lawyers from practicing law. No one is requiring TWU to cease being a Christian university. TWU is a private entity that requires its students to sign a covenant that prohibited homosexual conduct, even if they were in a legally recognized same-sex marriage. If you do not, you are not allowed entrance. But that is not all. TWU has stepped into the public sphere by requesting a law school and requesting a public entity to recognize it. The law society is a public regulating body that makes decision in ways as to protect the public good. Our society, as a collective has renounced discrimination based on sexual orientation, in the same way we have prohibited discrimination based on sex and race. When the BC Law Society accredited TWU, it was in essence an endorsement of the discriminatory practices this private entity engages in and sent a message to the public that discrimination against gay people was ok, even though they are protected under the Charter and even though same-sex marriages are legally recognized. This is not in the public interest and does not protect the public interest, which includes acceptance of gay people. TWU can go ahead with its anti-gay admission policies. But, it is not entitled to have a public regulatory body, that is supposed to act in the public interest, publicly endorse their privately held beliefs and discriminatory practices. If it does, we are taking a step backwards from so many years of hard work to recognize the human rights of gay people. You cannot say that these gay people can simply go to another school. The reality is, law school admissions are limited. Inevitably, there will be situation where a gay student may wish to attend law school at TWU, but only because it is a law school (and a gateway to the legal profession) and not because they want to attend TWU, since it has been publicly accredited. But they can only attend if they sign a covenant that is anti-gay and would be under threat of discipline and expulsion. If they don't sign to say that homosexuality is wrong, even allowed under the law, they don't get in. By having the law society accredit TWU, it is allowing and endorsing this discriminatory admission practice. I've set out my position here: http://wp.me/p4A1wz-4 I read many submissions, but none have been as eloquent as the submissions of BC bender Joe Arvey: http://t.co/InLx6T7L9b Please don't conflate the various issues. I strongly encourage everyone to read the above articles and consider the various issues one by one, rather than make broad stroke statement.

  • Maggy Carter
    May 03, 2014 - 12:40

    With all due respects to Mr. Downer, I see nothing 'tough' about this decision. Would it be tough if TWU opted to exclude blacks, jews, women or the physically handicapped? Universities are about universality, inclusiveness - a free association of people, ideas, philosophies. Isn't it come one - come all as long as you have a functioning brain, an interest in learning, openness to new ideas, and a respect and tolerance for the ideas of others? Surely the faculties of arts, humanities - and especially law - have a unique social responsibility even beyond engineering, science and business. You can't stop bigots from becoming lawyers, but no need to offer them an express lane to positions of power. How can you have people sworn to interpret, uphold, adjudicate the law, who are telling you from the get-go that they have no respect for your constitution. They are so many aspects of this story that are repugnant, that any self-respecting self-regulated legal body should have no trouble arriving at the right decision. No doubt the courts will be left to decide the balance of religious freedom versus equality rights. I have little doubt they too will arrive at the right conclusion.

  • Observer
    May 03, 2014 - 08:05

    Well, if the law society is testing which way the local wind is blowing on this one, let me be the first to say this is a no-brainer. These people should not be accepted by the Law Society. This has nothing to do with religion but rather all to do with deeply engrained discrimination against homosexuals. They can veil themselves in any form of legitimacy they like but that doesn't deny their appalling bigotry and narrow- minded thinking. The decision "a tough one"? Far from it!

  • dave sharpe
    May 03, 2014 - 06:48

    To Don Downer. They openly discriminate against gay people, what else do you need to know? So because it has to do with religion you are not sure, what the heck is that? So while we are on the subject what else or who else can be discriminated against for religious reason? You are either for everyone having the same rights or you are not, nothing difficult about that bud. If you are incapable of making the correct decision you should be removed from the position.

    • art vandelay
      May 03, 2014 - 18:20

      Hhhmmm... read the charter, they don't discriminate against gay people. They simply ask that ALL students abide by their christian moral code. Thus, if I wanted to go to the university, but preferered to sleep with anything that moved, I should probably find another university. BTW... no one has ever been expelled from TWU because of the covenant... straight or otherwise.