VANCOUVER – Members of the Law Society of British Columbia have voted overwhelmingly against accrediting a Christian university’s law school.
The referendum was called at the end of September by the society’s governors, known as benchers, and was sparked by a community covenant at Trinity Western University in Langley, south of Vancouver.
That covenant prohibits students and staff from sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.
The law society said 8,039 of 13,530 eligible voters cast their ballots, with 5,951 voting against accrediting the university and 2,088 voting in favour.
The results are expected to be discussed at a meeting of the governors today.
barbara findlay, a self-described “lesbian lawyer,” said in a news release that it was a “proud day to be a lawyer.”
Former Trinity Western student Jill Bishop, who is now an articled law student, said she was proud that her colleagues stood up for equality.
“The experience of being educated at TWU was very oppressive to me as a lesbian who had to sign the restrictive covenant,” she said.
But Trinity Western spokesman Guy Saffold said in a news release that he was disappointed by the vote.
“Trinity Western believes in diversity and the rights of all Canadians to their personal beliefs and values. A person’s ability to study and practise the law should not be restricted by their faith,” he said.
He said the process is unprecedented, and the result has no effect without a resolution of the benchers.
“The benchers still have the opportunity to do the right thing, and we are encouraging them to think very carefully before passing any resolution against TWU,” he said.
The referendum follows a months-long debate among law-society members on accreditation.
In April, the governors decided to accredit the law school, a decision that triggered a non-binding vote in June by B.C. lawyers.
The results were 3,210 to 968 in favour of a motion calling on the society’s governing body to reject accreditation of the school slated to open in the fall of 2016.
The governors called a referendum on the issue in late September, saying it would be the most democratic and transparent way for lawyers to express their views because most of the society’s 11,000 members were unable to vote in person in June.
Three other provincial legal governing bodies have weighed in on the subject, which is expected to eventually land in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have voted against accrediting law students from Trinity, and the university has launched legal challenges of those decisions.
Members of the Law Society of New Brunswick passed a September resolution directing its council not to accredit the law school.