Law Society of BC oversteps its mandate

No business attempting to regulate beliefs

TRAIL, BC, Jun 19, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Reports that a majority of B.C. lawyers oppose the establishment of a faculty of law at Trinity Western University may be exaggerated.

While 3,210 members of the Law Society of British Columbia vote against approval, with only 968 for, that number represents only a fraction of the 11,000 practicing members, out of a total membership of 13,114, who belong to the Law Society of British Columbia.

A special meeting and vote was called because a requisite number of lawyers were dissatisfied with the April 11, 2014 decision of the Benchers, who are responsible for governing the Law Society, to approve the law school at TWU for the purposes of the Law Society’s admissions program. The faculty of law at the conservative faith-based university is slated to open in September 2016.

The vote, however, is not binding on the Benchers. In a press release,  Jan Lindsay, president of the Law Society, said “The decision regarding whether to admit graduates from the proposed law school at TWU is a Bencher decision,” adding that  “the Benchers will give the result of (the) members meeting serious and thoughtful consideration.”

The Benchers’ decision was reached after an extensive process of consultation, and a thought-provoking debate that touched upon issues of equality, discrimination, freedom of association, religious freedom and the rule of law. I watched the debate live and, in my view, the Benchers arrived at a principled decision regarding a contentious issue that involves the conflicting Charter rights of two disparate groups.

The opposition to TWU is based on a clause in the university’s “Community Covenant” which upholds a traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman. Students, faculty and staff agree to abide by the covenant.

Many, as the vote of B.C. lawyers indicates, believe this clause to be discriminatory and tantamount to placing a sign at the gate stating that LGBTQ people are not welcome.

While I dislike the idea of a university requiring its members to sign a covenant that governs the most intimate aspects of their lives, TWU has the right to uphold a particular view of marriage, and those who share the institution’s beliefs have the right to congregate and associate with others of like mind.

I share the opinion of the BC Civil Liberties Association, an organization that has a record of supporting the rights of LGBTQ persons but who took the position that “to deny (TWU’s) application based on the university’s Community Covenant would infringe the Charter-protected freedom of association and religion of members of the faith-based private university”.

It then added that these are fundamental freedoms and “that’s what s Section .2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is all about, protecting our freedoms of association, of assembly, of belief and of expression.”

In 2001, in Trinity Western University, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny education graduates of TWU admittance to the teaching profession based on religious beliefs about homosexuality that were unacceptable to the College.

There is no evidence that teachers trained at TWU fail to professionally and competently exercise their teaching responsibilities when employed in the public school system. Similarly, there is no reason to assume that future graduates of a law school at TWU will be incapable of upholding the laws of the land and representing the rights of clients of all persuasions.

If an individual lawyer trained at TWU should prove incapable of doing so, the public can reasonably expect that the Law Society will deal with that person according to the remedial and disciplinary procedures already in place for lawyers who fail to faithfully represent clients and honorably serve the cause of justice.

In my opinion, for a law society to deny candidates admission to the legal profession because of a religious belief that is socially anathema to an (uncertain) percentage of its existing membership is unjustified, and is discriminatory in its own way. In the absence of evidentiary proof that TWU’s traditional view of marriage and its code of sexual conduct does harm to others, graduates of its law school should be eligible for admission to the B.C. bar.

The Law Society of BC is properly concerned with the training, qualification, ethics, competency and conduct of its members. It is not its task, however, to regulate belief by excluding those with whom some of its members disagree.

Troy Media columnist Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com.

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0 Responses to "Law Society of BC oversteps its mandate"

  1. Avatar
    TRDHU   June 19, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Whose religious beliefs are the lawyers trying to regulate? Please explain how this vote by the BC Law Society would move to forbid any student or staff member from believing that marriage should be exclusive to one woman and one man or expressing a belief concerning marriage. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the religious freedom of persons, not institutions.

  2. Avatar
    JDcanadidateJC   June 20, 2014 at 2:53 am

    TRDHU Exactly! The Charter (i.e. s.15) does not apply to TWU as an institution. The LSBC is charged with ensuring the graduates have the adequate competence to practice law in BC. The government of BC already approved the faculty of law — TWU could build a law school tomorrow. The only issue before the benchers is whether the school’s graduates are competent. 

    By saying “no” and denying the accreditation of their degrees, they can only be saying that individuals who attend this private religious institution are not competent to practice law (since that is the only issue before them). The only reason is the Community Covenant, ergo a violation of the graduates’ freedom of religion (and association, and expression).

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