Why are we still discussing Trinity Western University (TWU) and their law school? The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) approved TWU’s application back in December and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education gave TWU their approval in January.
The answer is simple. The FLSC failed to uphold their mandate to act in the public interest when they disengaged from public discourse. This glaring omission became clear to me on Thursday, February 13 as I was live tweeting the first public hearing held by any law society in Canada about TWU.
The Executive Committee of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) held a public hearing to discuss whether TWU law graduates should be admitted to the Bar society. At the hearing, 24 people from all facets of the legal profession and the public gave thoughtful, interesting perspectives about TWU. These oral submissions are in addition to the hundreds of written submissions available for public viewing on the NSBS website.
Whether you support or oppose the TWU law school, there is little evidence that the FLSC completed a thorough evaluation process. While the FLSC did accept and publish letters of support and opposition online, they failed to have public hearings to address the issue. Given the response from the public, it would seem that public hearings would be the next logical step in the process. Public hearings would ensure that as many people as possible would be able to share their views.
TWU is now a major issue for the law societies. Nova Scotia is the first province to hold a public hearing about accepting TWU graduates into the profession.
Ronald J. MacDonald, QC, former president of the FLSC, spoke candidly about the organization and his own personal cost. “Several people told me if you speak out like this, you might not get what you wanted,” said MacDonald. “I have one response. I don’t care.” He described the FLSC process as “one committee of 5 people” deciding on accreditation.
Committee members asked tough questions about whether legislative changes are needed, deference to decisions made by other law societies, national mobility issues and constitutional issues about freedom of religion and equality. Legal scholars from the Schulich School of Law were able to address any concerns. It is an opportunity that was never given by the FLSC.
There were plenty of groups who have different views on the issue. Law faculties and student societies across Canada have denounced the proposed TWU law school. Lea Staples from the OUTlaw society at Dalhousie Schulich School of Law spoke passionately about how the TWU law school would, “create more law school seats for heterosexuals than LGBT students.” This week the Osgoode faculty council added their name to list of groups denouncing TWU and their Community Covenant.
There were people at the hearing advocating their support for TWU. Chris Roper, a TWU graduate living in Halifax, talked about his experience at TWU and why he voluntarily chose to go to a private Christian school to get his education. Larry Worthern, a non-practicing member, talked about the negative portrayals of Christian law students. Kevin Kindred, a lawyer and gay rights activist, spoke about the pluralist ideals of the law and the acceptance of TWU graduates.
The NSBS Executive Committee heard from community activists, academics, law students, the clergy, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and the general public. TWU will have a chance to respond, if they choose to do so, at a public hearing on March 4 before the Executive Committee turns in their final report to Council. Whatever decision Council makes, it will be well informed.
Other law societies are quickly catching up. The Law Society of British Columbia is currently accepting written submissions. While the submissions will be passed on to TWU, it’s unclear whether they will be released to the public. The Law Society of Upper Canada announced at Convocation last January that they will be looking at the issue but there are no concrete plans yet.
What about the FLSC? They will review TWU’s first law school graduates in a few years. In the meantime, what will happen the next time a controversial application comes before the FLSC? Hopefully, there are lessons learned about serving the public interest. In order to serve it, though, you have to listen.