‘It’s a tough one’

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

Rosie Mullaley rmullaley@thetelegram.com
Published on May 3, 2014

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.”

 

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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