“On June 10, 2014,” began the release from the Law Society of British Columbia, “the members of the Law Society passed a resolution at a special general meeting directing the Benchers to declare that the proposed law school at Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law for the purposes of the Law Society’s admission program.”
By a vote of 3,210 to 968, the lawyers of B.C. have said, essentially, “If Trinity Western (TWU) gets to discriminate against people in deciding who they educate, we should get to say that we don’t have to have jobs available for their graduates.”
The law societies of Upper Canada (“Ontario” for most people) and Nova Scotia had earlier denied accreditation to future hypothetical graduates of the yet to be established institution in the Fraser Valley, which is set to open in the fall of 2016, but the Law Society of BC had earlier voted to accept the degree, causing an uproar amongst its own membership, spurring the call for a Special General Meeting (SGM) of the membership. The goal of that meeting was to convince the Benchers, who originally approved the accreditation of the school, to reconsider. The result of the vote is not legally binding, but membership could call another one that is if the decision is not now reconsidered.
The result of the vote, for anyone following along via social media, was not a surprise. There were, by my count, approximately three voices using the Twitter hashtag #TWUvote that sounded like they were for keeping accreditation of the school. I won’t even approximate the number expressing the opposing view.
“The religious freedom to discriminate is not one we should fight to defend,” Tweeted Jay Michi, past president of the Thompson Rivers University Society of Law Students, though it is unclear if he was quoting a speaker or if those were his own words.
Michael Mulligan, the Victoria lawyer who spurred the SGM by petitioning his colleagues, introduced the resolution at the meeting by pointing out that society is “just coming out of a long dark history of wrongful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” and that it was time to get on the right side of history.
“If we do not continue to stand up against ignorance & bigotry, they will take us back & the historical wrongs will be repeated,” he said. His address to the meeting is posted on his law office’s website, by the way.
He then preemptively shot back against the arguments made by those in favour of TWU’s accreditation that it’s a matter of religious freedom, and TWU has the right to practice their religion and “maintain it as a standard, as an ethos for its university environment,” TWU president Bob Khun was later quoted as saying.
“While TWU is desperate to claim that we are here to consider an application by a future student for admission [to the law society], by reference to their religious beliefs, that is simply not the case,” Mulligan said. “We need not speculate about future conduct. Beliefs are not the concern. Our concern is with the conduct of the university, as an institution, and not the religious views of the faculty or students. Our task is to assess the conduct of the university in order to determine if its approval would further the objects and duties of the law society. On that score there is no need for speculation and the answer is no.”
After the vote was counted and the results came back, the atmosphere online was much the same. The Twitterverse defended its ideals even after they’d voted and seen the results of that action.
“Asserting that religious freedom entities you to a law school with a ‘no queers’ sign on the gate is disturbing,” said one Twitter user.
“I guess now Trinity Western knows how it makes gay people feel. #rejected,” said another.
“3210-968! Huge majority voted against discrim[ination] in law school admissions & in favour of equality rights & upholding dignity of all,” said a third. In fact, the overarching sentiment being expressed after the results of the non-binding resolution were elation that the profession itself had taken a stand in favour of equality.
“Law Society vote denying TWU accreditation passes. Not binding on benchers but an indication of our values as a profession,” said Vancouver lawyer Edward Takayanagi.
For my part, I would also like to congratulate the lawyers of B.C. who stood up for themselves. They stood up for their profession; they stood up for society as a whole; they stood up in droves against the group that supposedly represents them and said, “Actually, no. That’s not what we want you to do,” and did something about it.
There is no doubt in my mind that this fight will be taken all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (as TWU has been known to do), but there is at least less doubt in my mind now that we are close to a time when equality and human dignity will come out on top of ignorance and exclusion in our society, and that more people are on the right side of history these days.
Even the lawyers.