The Law Society of B.C. has decided to hold a province-wide vote on whether the accreditation of the new law school at Trinity Western University in Langley should be rescinded.
The Law Society’s board of governors, known as Benchers, made the decision Friday to conduct a referendum of all BC lawyers.
The vote will decide whether to implement a resolution passed at the special general meeting of the Law Society held on June 10, declaring that the proposed law school at Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law for the purpose of the Law Society’s admission program.
A written statement issued by the society said the resolution will be binding and will be implemented by the Benchers if at least one third of all lawyers in good standing of the Law Society vote in the referendum, and two thirds of those voting vote in favour of the resolution.
The referendum will be held as soon as possible and the results will be available on the Law Society website no later than Oct. 30.
“Benchers decided that in a matter as important as this, it was important to provide all lawyers with the opportunity to express their views through a referendum,” Society president Jan Lindsay said.
“Holding the referendum will ensure that lawyers who did not vote at the special general meeting because they were unable to attend or because the vote was not binding will have a chance to be heard.”
The Law Society of British Columbia regulates the more than 11,000 practising lawyers in the province, setting and enforcing standards of professional conduct.
“We are disappointed with this decision,” said TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold.
“The Benchers originally approved TWU graduates based on constitutional principles and the rule of law. They have now decided that the matter should be determined by popular vote.”
A TWU statement said the Benchers decision to hold a referendum comes despite an independent legal opinion prepared for the LSBC, which put into question whether the member vote would have any relevance.
The legal opinion states: “If a majority of the Benchers continue to believe that they came to a decision that is legally required and that their assessment of the law is correct, it could not make a legal difference that a large number of members of the Law Society may be of a different opinion.”
“The referendum cannot be binding on the benchers,” said TWU School of Law executive director Earl Phillips said.
“We agree with the legal opinion received by the Benchers and feel it is a waste of time and resources to go through this referendum process.”
“Lawyers and law students in Canada adhere to many faiths and no faith,” said Saffold. “We deeply respect that professional practice requires serving all clients with full integrity in their best interests.”
The controversy over the proposed TWU law school centres around a community covenant at the Christian university, which students and faculty members to are required to sign, saying they will not have sex outside heterosexual marriage.
Langley MP Mark Warawa issued a written statement casting the issue as one of religious freedom.
“… the issue is about Trinity Western’s Community Covenant, which has already been ruled lawful by the Supreme Court of Canada,” Warawa said.
“It is important to note that Trinity Western’s Covenant does not forbid graduates from fulfilling the obligations and oaths of their chosen professions,” Warawa added.
“It merely affirms the Christian beliefs that the institution was founded upon. Law societies across Canada must respect that freedom of belief.”