A law school connected to Christian institution Trinity Western University in BC is facing an odd hurdle.
Certain law societies in Canada (BC, Ontario, and Nova Scotia) are deciding not to allow graduates of the new law school to practice law in their provinces. (More have approved it already without fuss, including my home province of Alberta.) The justification seems to be the discriminatory admission practices of the university. Students must conform to a code of behaviour that excludes gays and unmarried couples who perform certain private acts.
My first reaction is that this is a ridiculous code of behaviour to impose on students, unworthy of an institution that calls itself a “university”.
My second reaction, especially after reading some of the news stories, is that the barrier seemed arbitrary. The news stories focus on the discriminatory rule (eg, here, here, and here). Nobody seems to argue that the students who come out of the program will be unqualified to practice law.
Students who are okay with TWU’s code of conduct may be more likely to oppose the rights of sexual minorities – or they to refuse clients or cases that are contrary to the bigoted position of their alma mater. If that is the problem, then surely the solution is to make individual lawyers to agree to a code of conduct. That way, you address not only the bad eggs coming out of TWU’s law school, but also the bigots that happen to study at more mainstream law schools.
But no – all the quotes in the media seem to centre around how horrible it is that the school has this sexually-discriminatory code for the students.* If this is the problem, then don’t punish the students for their school’s bigoted stance. Find some way to address it with the school. One effective and regulation-free solution would be for all the members of the relevant professional groups to be aware of TWU’s code. They are in a strong position to exert social pressure on new graduates, encouraging them to embrace a more pro-social attitude to the humans they encounter in their professional lives. Given how these votes are coming out, I think the social momentum is already leaning this way.
In the end, my position is the same as Hemant Mehta’s: the school (a private university) should be free to treat its students in this bigoted way; society should be free to criticize them; and its students should be allowed or not allowed to practice law based on their legal qualifications.
I’ll close by pointing to two comments that seem to speak to the content of the program. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (responsible for accrediting law programs across the country) says
The Special Advisory Committee on Trinity Western University’s Proposed School of Law … concluded that there is no public interest reason to exclude future graduates of the program from law society bar admission programs as long as the program meets the national requirement.
And the Advanced Education Minister in BC, Amrik Virk, said in December,
The Degree Quality Assessment Board reviewed Trinity Western University’s proposed law degree and found that it met the degree program quality assessment criteria for private and out-of-province public institutions.
What do you think of this whole mess? What would be the optimal solution to the conflicting needs of private autonomy and freedom versus upholding equal rights?
* Yes, I am taking the media reports with a grain of salt. Journalists and their audience like a good A versus B narrative, and the secular-vs-religious narrative appeals to both liberals and conservatives – each gets to feel either smugly victorious or self-importantly oppressed.