BC has a second look at TWU law school

Today the Law Society of British Columbia held a special general meeting to reconsider its approval of Trinity Western University’s proposed Law School. It was a fascinating thing to witness.

Trinity Western University, as its President explained to the meeting, is the largest faith based university in Canada, and a community of evangelical Christian learners. The controversy surrounding it arises from the community covenant that it requires all staff, faculty and students to sign. Among (many) other things, the covenant requires that signatories abstain from ‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman’ and attaches consequences to the failing to live by the covenant’s terms. The covenant is perceived as aiming primarily at lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex and queer people. Many of those voting ‘yes’ today wore rainbows.

The central question for the Law Society is whether to approve a Law School that embraces, indeed requires, this discrimination.

In April, the Law Society of BC’s governing Benchers voted to approve the TWU proposal. Today’s meeting came about because of a petition signed by more than 1,000 BC lawyers asking their governing body to reconsider. This is really the remarkable bit.

In the time since the original BC decision, the Law Societies of Nova Scotia and Ontario have voted against approving TWU. But British Columbia matters more. The stakes are higher because TWU is here. To lack approval in its own jurisdiction it tantamount to having no approval at all, and what is more, a high number of law grads seek to practice where they train.

Lawyers who wanted to vote on the resolution today were required to attend the meeting in person and to register in advance to do so. About 2,200 registered to attend in Vancouver. The meeting was convened electronically in 16 locations around the province. As part of the opening proceedings, each location reported how many people were in the room. I think the smallest number was 5 in Williams Lake.

But still, five in Williams Lake. Wow. This is an issue that has engaged the legal community around the province. There are an enormous number of people who work in a very time-intense profession who have made time to be at this meeting so that their vote on this question will be counted.

If the line-ups at the microphones are any indication, the ‘YES’ vote will prevail. Two microphones were labeled ‘yes’ and ‘no’. A third had no label. While I didn’t stay in my seat the entire time, the line-up at YES was about three times as long as the line up at NO. The ‘neutral’ mike didn’t seem to appeal to anyone.

In my view, it is wrong to see this controversy as a clash between equality and religious freedom. Setting the question that way suggests that two groups come together on a level playing field, and are equal at the outset. Of course TWU can run a law school if it wants to, and can bar anyone from coming to it. The question is, rather, whether people trained in such a discriminatory atmosphere should be admitted to a profession where the core values are justice, fairness and equality. I don’t have any confidence that TWU aspires to educate lawyers about equality as currently understood in Canadian law.

The voting is open until 6p.m.


BC has a second look at TWU law school — 1 Comment

  1. I strongly support TWU precisely because it may not “aspire to educate lawyers about equality as currently understood in Canadian law”.

    Actually, let me specify that a bit: I’m actually wholly certain that TWU can educate its graduates about the state of Canadian law. But I suspect that Dauvergne’s crucial qualifier is the “currently understood”, with “law” then being understood as “amongst the opinion-making elites, or at least a certain subset of them, within the legal profession”.

    After all, the notions to which Dauvergne appeals are almost infinitely contestable, and admit of an exceptionally wide range of interpretation. Yet from her presentation one would think that they are both axiomatic and enforceable – and not just as general notions, but in their very specific content. Not to mention that Dauvergne’s position also relies on an uncritical invocation of the famous paradox of tolerance: “are you trained in a ‘discriminatory atmosphere’? Why then, we possess unalloyed moral standing to discriminate against you! And who defines discrimination? Why, of course, no one but me, you discriminatory animal!”

    These two points suggests to me that the opposition to TWU from certain quarters does not come from a thoughtful commitment to justice, fairness, and equality: it comes a desire to enforce who is able to debate (let alone define) the meaning of such terms. For the enforcers of orthodoxy, the mere reminder of existing disagreement is therefore too great a threat to be tolerated.

    From my own perspective as a pluralist, the great benefit of organizations such as TWU is that they can expand the potential for our understanding of the ideas being invoked here, rather than narrowing it. I believe that this can ultimately benefit everyone – regardless of religious or political affiliation, sexual orientation, or whatever else.

    Moreover, I think that in different circumstances a wide variety of organizations can and have served a similar purpose (e.g., gay high schools, women’s only colleges, men’s golf clubs, homeschooling, etc). Of course, there will always be boundary questions that arise with such organizations – but I think that is one of the best reasons for not only facilitating their existence, but also their ability to participate in public life, where such controversies can actually be negotiated. By contrast, Dauvergne’s position seems to be: “you’re free to disagree with me, so long as I’m free to bar you from any participation in public life”. Does that amount to justice, fairness, and equality for all? Someone might doubt it – but, of course, they won’t be able to say so out loud if Dauvergne has anything to do with it!

    Which raises another question: let’s go ahead and ban institutions that Dauvergne disagrees with, because they fail to present as incontestable her precise view of all that “justice, fairness, and equality” implies. Fine. But then I wonder, why should we let people who hold any view that Dauvergne holds to be incompatible with “justice, fairness, and equality” receive ANY law degree? Is such a person allowed to attend Dauvergne’s law school only because it is presumed that they will never challenge her received wisdom on the subject? Or because they have implicitly agreed never to question it in public? Or should we be concerned that thought crimes are being committed at UBC at this very moment?