HALIFAX – Law school graduates from Trinity Western University will be allowed to enrol in Nova Scotia’s bar admission program as long as the B.C. school drops its covenant that prohibits same-sex intimacy, Nova Scotia’s bar society ruled Friday.
The Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society council voted 10 to nine in favour of granting the conditional accreditation for the university, which requires students to sign a community covenant forbidding intimacy outside heterosexual marriage. The covenant has been criticized as discriminatory against gays and lesbians.
While the decision prevents graduates from Trinity Western University’s law school from articling in Nova Scotia, they will be permitted to practise in the province.
The decision in Halifax follows one in Ontario, where barristers ruled not to accredit the faith-based institution. Many members of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s board of directors condemned the covenant as “abhorrent,” though several said they would still vote in favour of allowing graduates to practise in Ontario.
The university, which bills itself as the largest, independent Christian liberal arts institution in Canada, wants to open a law school in 2016.
In December, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada gave Trinity Western preliminary approval for its law school program and said it was up to provincial law societies to decide whether to recognize degrees from the school southeast of Vancouver.
The Law Society of British Columbia cleared the way earlier this month for the law school to proceed. B.C.’s Advanced Education Ministry has also approved the school to grant degrees.
The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society held public hearings on the issue earlier this year, where a number of lawyers and legal experts condemned Trinity Western’s policies.
Elaine Craig, a faculty member at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, told the society panel that endorsing the institution would amount to sanctioning “blatant and explicit discrimination” and is not consistent with Charter values.
But Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn told the panel that treating the university’s alumni different from graduates of other schools would be prejudicial.
Kuhn, a long-time lawyer, said he was offended by any suggestion that religious beliefs would prevent students from acting professionally and ethically in their duties as lawyers. He also raised the question of whether there is meaningful freedom of religion in Canada.
It’s not the first time the university has fought to defend its controversial beliefs.
In the late 1990s, the British Columbia College of Teachers blocked Trinity Western from granting teaching degrees in light of its policies related to homosexuality. At the time, students were required to sign an agreement not to engage in activities that were “biblically condemned,” including “homosexual behaviour.”
The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which overturned the college’s decision.