British Columbia’s minister of advanced education has until Jan 5 to decide whether or not he will reverse his approval of Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school, according to a lawyer involved in a lawsuit against the government.
The government was scheduled to appear in court Dec 1 to begin hearings in a case brought by a would-be gay law student who is suing the ministry for its approval last year of a school that he argues is discriminatory in its admissions policy. The lawsuit has now been adjourned until Jan 5, when it will come before BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson for a case-management conference.
Lawyer Clayton Ruby, who is representing Trevor Loke, says the government sought an adjournment in the case after Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk sent a letter to TWU on Nov 17 saying he was reconsidering his approval.
Virk approved the proposed Christian law school on Dec 18, 2013, two days after the Federation of Law Societies of Canada approved it. Virk now says his consent was conditional on TWU enrolling students within three years of his approval. In his November letter to TWU president Bob Kuhn, Virk says that deadline may not be met because of lengthy court processes.
“As a result, I am considering revoking my consent for TWU’s proposed law program,” Virk wrote to Kuhn.
In addition to the lawsuit filed against the BC government for its approval of the law school, TWU is suing the law societies of Ontario and Nova Scotia for their rejection of the school.
Ruby doubts that the length of any legal proceeding is behind the government’s request for adjournment. “I’d say it’s because of the BC law society saying, ‘We’re not going to take your people,’” Ruby says, referring to the BC law society’s Oct 31 decision to rescind its approval for the school, after an outcry from its members. “It’s hard to accredit a law school that will not benefit the people of BC.”
In a Dec 1 statement to Xtra, Virk acknowledges the adjournment relates to his decision to grant approval to TWU’s law school. “As I am currently reconsidering that decision, the judicial review may become moot,” he says in an email to Xtra. “Since I am currently reconsidering my consent decision, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about the outcome.”
Ruby says the government initially sought an open-ended adjournment, with no date set to reconvene, but the judge rejected that request and set a deadline for decision.
Ruby says if Virk decides to revoke TWU’s approval, Loke’s lawsuit would “very likely” end, though he predicts such a reversal may prompt TWU to sue the government instead.
Ruby told Xtra in April that the Ministry of Advanced Education’s approval of TWU’s proposed law school violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the BC law that allowed the university’s founding in 1969. To be admitted to TWU, students must sign a covenant agreeing to uphold Christian biblical teachings, including no premarital sex and no homosexuality. Failure to uphold these commitments, according to the student handbook, could result in discipline, dismissal or a refusal to readmit a student to the university.
Ruby says the government’s approval of TWU’s law school, with its covenant, violates both the Charter’s equality and freedom of religion provisions and the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, colour or creed set out in the law governing the university’s foundation. Creed means religion in this context, Ruby says.