U of M faculty joins fight against Christian law school

Pledge required of students is discriminatory: dean


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The University of Manitoba law school is jumping into the debate over accrediting law graduates of a Christian university near Vancouver.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/04/2014 (3332 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Manitoba law school is jumping into the debate over accrediting law graduates of a Christian university near Vancouver.

The law school at private faith-based Trinity Western University in a Vancouver suburb isn’t scheduled to open until the fall of 2016.

It will do so with a controversial community covenant that requires prospective students to agree to abstain from sexual relations other than those between a man and a woman in marriage.

The U of M’s law professors and students can’t do anything about Trinity Western — but it can make a powerful argument to the Law Society of Manitoba (LSM), which will decide if TWU graduates can practise in Manitoba. In late May, the LSM will consider a submission from the U of M law school condemning the covenant and calling on the LSM to conduct public consultations regarding accreditation of TWU graduates.

“What you’re encountering is what’s called indirect discrimination,” U of M law dean Lorna Turnbull said. “It’s certainly generating significant interest.”

The Law Society of British Columbia has somewhat reluctantly agreed to accredit TWU’s law school, since B.C. law allows private schools to discriminate on religious grounds.

But, said Turnbull, “lawyers can move across provincial boundaries with relative ease.”

Competition for law-school spaces in Canada “is pretty fierce,” and the effect of the covenant is TWU’s spaces are not open to every applicant.

“This is new on the Canadian landscape,” Turnbull said.

It’s being debated across the country, said Allan Fineblit, executive director of the Law Society of Manitoba.

Previously, law societies looked at the academic credentials of law schools when considering whether to allow graduates to practise, but now TWU has raised the issue of the admissions standards for a school whose curriculum and academic standards would otherwise be up to par, Fineblit said.

Currently, each province accredits its own law schools, but the TWU policy has set off calls for a national accreditation process.

Rather than have individual jurisdictions with different standards, Manitoba wants the Canadian Federation of Law Societies to set a policy of no acceptable form of discrimination in determining who can practise law in Canada.

In any dispute in law, Fineblit said, “You can usually find some consensus, there is usually a middle ground.

“It’s pretty rare you run into an issue that’s so divisive.”

Trinity Western’s covenant ended up in the Supreme Court in 2001, where it was upheld after a challenge by a gay education student.

Fineblit said that language was more offensive than what the current covenant demands. The previous covenant said students were to refrain from “biblically condemned” practices, which included “homosexual behaviour.”

It will be 2019 before Trinity Western produces any law grads who may come here and seek to article and write the bar exam.

And TWU would be unlikely to let any ban elsewhere go unchallenged in court, Fineblit said.


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