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Law students ask BC government to rescind TWU approval

Advanced education minister says he will consider request given law society’s reversal

BC’s minister of advanced education, Amrik Virk, tells Xtra he will consider the government’s approval of TWU’s proposed law school in light of the BC law society’s referendum and reversal. Credit: leg.bc.ca

Queer law-student societies from across Canada have asked BC’s minister of advanced education, Amrik Virk, to rescind his approval of Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school.

Virk approved the school Dec 18, 2013, following an approval by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

“Since the TWU issue first came to light in early 2013, we have had serious concerns about TWU’s discriminatory policies towards LGBTQ students,” says the Nov 6 letter from OUTlaws Canada, representing queer students at 16 law schools.

“Central to these concerns is the fact that TWU forces its students to sign a ‘Community Covenant Agreement’ requiring the student to abstain from ‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman,’” the letter says.

“It was unjust for the BC government to authorize a pathway to the legal profession that openly discriminates against a vulnerable segment of the Canadian population,” the letter continues.

The students argue that government approval had been contingent on the Christian school receiving regulatory approval from the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC), which decides which students should be allowed into the profession.

The law society initially approved TWU’s proposed law school in April after vigorous debate. But members pushed the board to reconsider, even holding their own special general meeting in June to demand a new vote. 

The board agreed to a binding referendum to gauge members’ views in September. When members voted three to one to rescind the law society’s earlier approval, the board abided by the vote and reversed its approval on Oct 31. 

According to a July 11 letter from Virk to TWU president Bob Kuhn, the university has to show regulatory body approval prior to starting the program. Virk’s letter cites the federation and the Law Society of BC as the relevant regulators.

“If TWU law school graduates are not eligible to practice law in British Columbia, that would constitute a substantive change to the program that may require further consideration of the consent granted under the Degree Authorization Act,” Virk writes.

OUTlaws argues that means Virk must now reverse his decision. “This plainly implies that without regulatory approval by the LSBC, the consent given by the minister is not effective and the TWU law degrees cannot be issued,” the OUTlaws letter states.

In a Nov 10 statement to Xtra, Virk says, “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.

The federation approved the school on Dec 16, 2013.

Kuhn could not intially be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for TWU later told Xtra that Kuhn had seen the letter and hoped the education minister would nonetheless sustain his approval for the law school.

Meanwhile, a gay plaintiff’s lawsuit against the BC government for approving the TWU law school that his lawyers argue is discriminatory is scheduled to be heard in court in December.