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.