British Columbia

Trinity Western law school approved despite anti-gay concerns

Trinity Western University, a private Christian school in the Fraser Valley, will be opening a law school in 2015. LGBT advocates are concerned the school's anti-gay policy will mean biased lawyers.

Students can be expelled for violating "sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman"

Trinity Western University students must sign a covenant recognizing the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. (Trinity Western University)

The B.C. government has approved the creation of a faith-based law school at Trinity Western University in the Fraser Valley, despite concerns from gay and lesbian advocates.

The three-year law program has been receiving criticism because the private Christian university has a policy against same-sex relationships.

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk announced the approval Wednesday, meaning Trinity Western will begin accepting 60 students year in September 2015.

As a private institution, Trinity Western does not receive any capital or operating funding from the government, said Virk.

"The Degree Quality Assessment Board reviewed Trinity Western University's proposed law degree and found that it met the degree program quality assessment criteria for private and out-of-province public institutions," he said.

"Further, the review by the Federation of Law Societies confirmed that graduates of the proposed law program could meet the national standards to practise law."

Questions over same-sex policy

On Tuesday, Justin Trottier at the Centre For Inquiry Canada said he was worried the university's religious views would mean the new law school would be a less welcoming environment for LGBT students and would end up producing lawyers with an anti-gay bias.

All students at Trinity Western University must sign the TWU Community Covenant Agreement, which contains a clause requiring abstinence from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

If a student fails to comply with the agreement after signing it, the university "reserves the right to discipline, dismiss, or refuse a student’s re-admission to the University," according to the handbook.

"I'm deeply concerned because I think it is discrimination," said Trottier, who says the law school should produce lawyers sensitive to Canadian legal values, which embraces gay marriage.

In March this year, more than a thousand students from eight Canadian law schools signed letters protesting the efforts by TWU, claiming the university's policies discriminate against the LGBT community.

The letter petition asked the Federation of Law Societies and the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology to reject the accreditation of the university's proposed law school.

In a statement responding to the petition at the time, TWU said the proposal was "rigorously researched and developed" after consulting with legal experts.

"While we value and respect differing views, we trust that a faith-based community still has the religious freedom in Canada to maintain its beliefs and participate fully in society," the statement said.

The proposal emphasizes professionalism, competence, high ethical standards and leadership, Janet Epp Buckingham and Kevin Sawatsky, two faculty members who drafted the law school proposal, told CBC News in a joint email response at the time.

"The faith component adds a unique dimension to legal education."

with files from the CBC's Luke Brocki