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Ontario to decide whether accreditation from the school will be accepted

Photo by Travis Fateux (The Lance)

WINDSOR (CUP) — The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) will meet on April 10 and April 24 to determine whether accreditation from a B.C. law school, which prohibits the enrolment of LGBTQ+ students, will be accepted in Ontario.

The soon-to-be first Christian law school in Canada is drawing the attention of law faculties across the country for its requirement that students sign a contract saying they will uphold the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, prohibiting members of the LGBTQ+ community from entering the program.

The contract, which must be signed by all students at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, B.C., has caused some law schools to take a stand before the first Juris Doctor students are accepted to the new program in 2016.

TWU received conditional approval for its proposed law program from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada Approval Committee and from the provincial government in British Columbia.

It is up to each individual province to decide on the accreditation of TWU’s School of Law graduates. The LSUC, representing Ontario, has accepted more than 300 online submissions from people and institutions either supporting or opposing TWU.

Nicole Desnoyers, vp equity for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), has been following the story for a little over a year.

“It is making access to law school easier for heterosexual students and harder for students under the LGBTQ+ banner,” she said. “The law is something that has a lot of impact. It is something that we encounter every day as citizens who are following laws and who engage with the justice system in different ways. To exclude an entire portion of the population from being able to attend a law school creates easier access for one type of people to become lawyers, and then it takes away the chances for other voices to be heard within the justice system.”

The SFUO presented a motion at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) semi-annual general meeting calling for a letter to be written condemning the creation of a law school that explicitly discriminates against anyone under the LGBTQ+ banner. She said the motion passed with strong majority from schools across the country.

TWU has stood by their covenant, defending what they say is religious freedom, but it has already begun to receive pushback from across the country.

“The University welcomes students without discrimination,” wrote TWU president Bob Kuhn in an official statement. “The community covenant is rooted in respect for the human dignity of all, without exception. It encourages Christian virtues such as love, joy, and peace. The covenant also requires that all members of the community act in a manner that respects historic Christian values, which include principles applicable to expressions of sexuality.”

However, Desnoyers maintaints that religious freedom aside, the indirect exclusion of LGBTQ+ students is discrimination.

“Freedom only goes as far as the infringement on someone else’s rights,” said Desnoyers.  “Yes, there is religious freedom in a Christian school existing, but a Christian school that is refusing to allow LGBTQ+ community members to attend is not a question of religious freedom, it is discrimination.”

Joanne St. Lewis, an assistant professor in common law at the University of Ottawa, wrote an online submission to the LSUC stating accreditation of Trinity Western University’s law school is premature.  She wrote that her concerns “go well beyond the clear discrimination against persons,” because the covenant sources Biblical authority.

“How is the law school planning to train and educate its students regarding the fundamental obligation that all lawyers have to give primacy to advancing the Rule of Law and protecting the rights of all citizens?” she said.

TWU won a Supreme Court of Canada legal battle against the British Columbia College of Teachers in 2001 and was allowed to open a teachers college, a ruling that was used as a precedent for the creation of the law school.