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BC government considering revoking TWU approval

Advanced education minister sends letter to TWU two weeks before gay lawsuit to begin

BC’s minister of advanced education, Amrik Virk, sent a letter to Trinity Western University Nov 17 announcing that he is reconsidering his 2013 approval of the university’s proposed law school.  Credit: leg.bc.ca

BC’s minister of advanced education has told Trinity Western University (TWU) that he is considering revoking approval for its controversial new law school.

Amrik Virk approved the Christian university’s proposed law school on Dec 18, 2013, two days after the school received approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. But Virk says his consent was conditional on TWU enrolling students within three years of his decision. Now, in a Nov 17 letter to TWU president Bob Kuhn, Virk says that deadline may not be met because of lengthy court processes.

Virk notes that TWU is filing a legal challenge against the Law Society of BC over its recent decision to rescind accreditation to the school. And the university has already started legal action against the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) and the Law Society of Nova Scotia over their refusals to approve the school.

“In the circumstances, it seems unlikely that there will be a final determination by the courts with respect to the decisions by the various law societies, including the Law Society of British Columbia, not to approve the proposed law faculty at TWU before my conditional consent will expire,” Virk writes in his letter. “As a result, I am considering revoking my consent for TWU’s proposed law program.”

The minister says he welcomes submissions from TWU on his decision prior to Nov 28. “If I decide to revoke my consent after considering TWU’s submissions, TWU would, of course, be welcome to resubmit a further application in the future, when the legal issues have been determined,” he writes.

“We are considering our response,” Kuhn says in a Nov 19 news release. “We remain confident that the carefully evaluated decision of the Minister will not change because of public pressure.”

Kuhn says the debate over TWU’s community covenant, which requires students to uphold Christian biblical teachings and abstain from premarital sex and homosexuality or risk dismissal, has restarted a national discussion on religious freedom.

“The university is so much more than the debate surrounding the covenant,” he says. “We are open and welcoming, and believe in the rights of all Canadians to their personal beliefs and values.”

Virk’s letter comes 18 days after the Law Society of BC rescinded its initial approval of TWU’s proposed law school and 11 days after gay law student societies from across Canada asked the minister to reconsider his initial consent. The students argue that government approval was contingent on TWU receiving regulatory approval from both the BC law society, which decides who is allowed to practise law in the province, and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

In a Nov 10 statement to Xtra, Virk writes, “Following the referendum by BC Law Society members, I will give the outcome due consideration as the statutory decision maker.”

“You will remember my consent to approve the law school at TWU in December 2013 followed the Degree Quality Assessment Board’s recommendation and findings, as well as the preliminary approval by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada,” he adds.

On Dec 1, a suit from a prospective gay law student is scheduled to come to trial in Vancouver. Plaintiff Trevor Loke says the BC government’s 2013 approval of TWU’s proposed law school discriminates against people based on sexual orientation and religious grounds.

“If the minister is rescinding his approval, that’s a positive step as far as we’re concerned,” Loke tells Xtra.

Loke alleges the government’s approval was harmful and a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He believes the minister has been paying attention to the TWU law school’s rejection in other provinces and the opposition it faces from lawyers across Canada.