Law society on the fence for now

Rosie Mullaley
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Vote deferred on whether to accept grads from school that discriminates against gay people

The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador has made a decision on whether or not to accept graduates from a proposed law school that doesn’t tolerate homosexuality.

And its decision is not to make one — at least not yet.

In a meeting held Friday in St. John’s, the association’s benchers — similar to a board of directors —  were supposed to vote on whether to allow graduates from a proposed law school at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, B.C., to practise here.

The university plans to open its law school in 2016.

In May, TWU announced it is launching lawsuits in Ontario and Nova Scotia, where the provincial bar associations have voted not to accredit graduates.

So on Wednesday, benchers here agreed to defer making a final decision until those legal actions have concluded.

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 that provinces would even consider accepting law students from a school that discriminates based on sexual orientation. They call it institutional bullying.

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

The 21 benchers in this province, including four laypeople, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Brenda Grimes, executive director of the law society in this province, which regulates the practice of legal professionals, opted not to comment when contacted by The Telegram Wednesday.

Instead, June Perry, who handles communications for the law society, referred The Telegram to the society’s website for its official statement.

“They have nothing else to say at this time,” Perry said.

In the website’s statement, the society said since the issue involves competing Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it may ultimately be determined by the Supreme Court of Canada.

It added that the Federation of Law Societies of Canada is forming a committee to review all the national requirements.

“The legal questions regarding discrimination are not simple and will be debated at a national level through the court processes already engaged,” the website states.

“A further review of the national requirements is underway. The law society is committed to a national approach on the issue and, like everyone else, awaits guidance from those initiatives. TWU is not expected to produce graduates from a law school program until 2019 at the earliest.

“Under these circumstances, benchers resolved to place the question on whether graduates of TWU law school will be accepted for admission to the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador as student-at-law, in abeyance.”

The Law Society of Upper Canada — Ontario’s regulatory body —voted 28-21 to deny TWU graduates from practising in that province. Many of its members condemned the 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 20-6 to approve lawyers from TWU. However, it agreed to hold another vote after overwhelming backlash from the legal community, calling for the society to withdraw its approval.

In the second vote, held this week, B.C. lawyers overwhelmingly voted — by a margin of 3,210 to 968 — to reject TWU’s plans to open a law school.

While the result is not binding, it could influence the benchers’ decision and help rebuke the school’s policies.

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

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 advanced.

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Trinity Western University, Christian school, Rights Supreme Court of Canada.It Nova Scotia Barristers Society Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Ontario, Canada, Langley Nova Scotia Newfoundland and Labrador British Columbia New Brunswick

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Recent comments

  • John McNeill
    June 15, 2014 - 21:00

    A LGBTQ group could equally start a private university endorsing their view of sexuality. Should a group of Christians be allowed to force their standards upon that private institution, The answer is of course not. There are many Universities to choose from. Pick one that matches your value system. What's the next step do we ban celibate monasteries?

  • John Z.
    June 12, 2014 - 19:37

    TWU requires students and staff to sign a “Community Covenant" to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage (gay marriage or traditional marriage). It's not as if straight students are allowed to engage in premarital sex while gays are not. And it's not as if gays cannot be Christian. That point needs to be made abundantly clear! There is no discrimination, except on the part of the anti-Christian bigots in law firms who "hate" morality, and it shows! The "real bigots" are the haters who cannot stand Christian morality being enjoyed amongst gay and straight Christians alike, who voluntarily chose to attend a Christian school and maintain high moral standards that seem to be absent in law societies. Discrimination, open hatred and persecution against Christians needs to stop. It should be illegal, and the lawyers know it...

  • Bruce Mac
    June 12, 2014 - 18:05

    I guess lawyers graduating from that Christian college in BC would specialize in cases of the clergy in trouble?

  • RATTER 01
    June 12, 2014 - 15:34

    C O W A R D S all of them. Make a decision and stand by it.

  • RATTER 01
    June 12, 2014 - 15:32

    C O W A R D S all of them. Take a stand. You should be leading, not following.

  • AndreC
    June 12, 2014 - 10:06

    Lawyers talk but when it comes time to making a decision they freeze.

  • Mike
    June 12, 2014 - 08:58

    The problem with sitting on the fence is you're apt to get splinters up your arse.

  • Paul Brake
    June 12, 2014 - 08:54

    TWU is a private school, and a Christian school. It asks its students, who by definition should be Christians, to live a clean, wholesome life while at the school. Ostensibly the only people attending a private Christian University would be Christians. It is certainly not the only university in BC, and not the only law school in town. The curriculum at the school has already been vetted by the various law societies and approved by them all. So the problem is they want to discriminate against Christians becoming lawyers. You see, the beliefs that the school maintains are simply commonly held Christian ethics and morals. As such it a person cannot become a lawyer because they signed a document attesting to their willingness and desire to live a Christian lifestyle, then the problem is that the law societies are actually discriminating against the Christian lifestyle and beliefs. I might add that both Muslims and Jews share the same belief system in regards to sexual morality. So then will Jews and Muslims also be banned from becoming lawyers? Is it going to become a statute that people must be publicly promoting sodomy before they are granted a license to practice law? Sure looks that way. We cannot allow this to happen in Newfoundland. If a person demonstrates competence in the law then we must not allow the law societies to discriminate against them and infringe their "Fundamental Freedoms" as granted in article 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    • Chantal
      June 12, 2014 - 09:06

      So being gay is not a wholesome life? But being a bigot is?

    • John Z.
      June 12, 2014 - 20:06

      @Chantal So being gay is not a wholesome life? But being a bigot is? ------------------------------- Chantal. being either "straight or gay" does not equate to "wholesome life". I know some gay people who are big, fat anti-Christian bigots. They are bigots because they are bigots, and not because they are gay. Same goes for heterosexual bigots. Their heterosexuality doesn't make them bigots. Nor does their heterosexuality make them wholesome.

  • James J.
    June 12, 2014 - 08:13

    Yes bye, leave that leadership stuff to someone else, eh?

  • Steve
    June 12, 2014 - 07:12

    If I want to attend a university that is free of homosexual sinners, isn't that my right?

    • Strange world we live in
      June 12, 2014 - 07:51

      Yes it is everyone's right. Political correctness & a whole lot of other fear mongering crap going on in the world is making everything too difficult for people these days. Should come down to qualifications & not beliefs or gender or sexual preferences or religion. QUALIFICATIONS.

    • Margaret
      June 12, 2014 - 08:29

      Which kind of sinners would you prefer, Steve?

    • Ms. Bonobo
      June 12, 2014 - 08:46

      Is the metadata generated by this debate the whole purpose of it? I mean, what if Steve has a rear-enders accident with a homosexual driving to school? His rights won't protect him, only insurance, and common decency. Unless he is a monk, what will protect him, Steve, from the scary world of liberated people? Part of education, is seeing past the mammallian nature of mankind as homo sapiens per se, into a deeper hierarchy of values and approaching a comfort in ones own skin, as not to have to project self reproach onto others. We are all sinners, I'll take a free gay classmate's insight over a conditionally-caged one's any day. Twice at Sundayschool. This is in Langley BC, a bottom barrel school, no doubt, who cares. Is this supposed to inspire us to fight for our own law college, or something?