Nova Scotia's bar society is mulling the fate of law school graduates from a university in B.C. that prohibits same-sex intimacy, a day after barristers in Ontario ruled not to accredit the faith-based institution.
The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society council is expected to meet today in Halifax and decide whether grads from Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., should be guaranteed enrolment into the East Coast bar admission program.
The university, which bills itself as the largest, independent Christian liberal arts institution in Canada, wants to open a law school in 2016.
At issue for the bar societies is the school's requirement that its 3,600 students sign a community covenant forbidding intimacy outside heterosexual marriage, which has been criticized as discriminatory against gays and lesbians.
But the president of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society says there could still be hope for Trinity Western graduates who wish to enrol in the bar admission program and article in the Maritime province even if its council rules against the university.
Rene Gallant says students would be assessed for admission to the program on an individual basis, and could be required to complete extra courses to gain acceptance, as an example.
The bar admission program, which bridges the gap between law school and legal practice, includes a skills course, an articling period and an exam.
Freedom of religion
"At the end of the day, if they have a Charter right to freedom of religion that they can demonstrate, then we have to be able to balance the decision we make about the school with the way the decision affects individual students," he said.
Gallant added that the society honours a national mobility agreement that allows lawyers in other provinces to practise in Nova Scotia.
"Council has to be aware that at the end of the day, if a graduate can practise in British Columbia or Alberta ... they might end up being a lawyer that can practise here in Nova Scotia," he said.
In December, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada gave Trinity Western preliminary approval for its law school program and said it was up to provincial law societies to decide whether to recognize degrees from the school southeast of Vancouver.
The Law Society of British Columbia cleared the way earlier this month for the law school to proceed. B.C.'s Advanced Education Ministry has also approved the school to grant degrees.
The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society held public hearings on the issue earlier this year, where a number of lawyers and legal experts condemned Trinity Western's policies.
'Blatant and explicit discrimination'
Elaine Craig, a faculty member at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, told the society panel that endorsing the institution would amount to sanctioning "blatant and explicit discrimination" and is not consistent with Charter values.
But Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn told the panel that treating the university's alumni different from graduates of other schools would be prejudicial.
Kuhn, a long-time lawyer, said he was offended by any suggestion that religious beliefs would prevent students from acting professionally and ethically in their duties as lawyers. He also raised the question of whether there is meaningful freedom of religion in Canada.
It's not the first time the university has fought to defend its controversial beliefs.
In the late 1990s, the British Columbia College of Teachers blocked Trinity Western from granting teaching degrees in light of its policies related to homosexuality. At the time, students were required to sign an agreement not to engage in activities that were "biblically condemned," including "homosexual behaviour."
The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which overturned the college's decision.