Reasonable Doubt: Inside the lawyers’ vote on Trinity Western University
June 10—I am eating dinner at my office computer and reflecting on the events of this afternoon. Today, I attended the Law Society of British Columbia’s meeting of its members. This was held in over a dozen locations across the province. Over 1,200 lawyers gathered. Roughly half of that, along with members of the media and the public, sat in the same room as me in downtown Vancouver.
This meeting was to vote on the issue of accreditation of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. Earlier this year, the benchers (i.e. governors) of the Law Society voted in favour of accreditation. Our column expressed our opposition in May. I followed up with a perspective on the Law Society’s role. Today’s meeting was called by a petition of the members. It was to come together and vote on a resolution directing the benchers to reverse their previous decision. If passed, the resolution would not bind the benchers but send a powerful message directly from the Law Society’s constituents.
The meeting consisted of an open-floor discussion. However, I suspect that most lawyers, like me, arrived with their minds already made up. That said, it was quite something to hear the various viewpoints of fellow members of the bar.
I would like to impart an image that has stuck with me all day. There were two microphones on the floor of the Vancouver meeting. One was for Law Society members who support revoking TWU accreditation. The other was for those who support TWU accreditation. From where I sat at the very edge of the room, I saw lawyers line up behind their microphone of choice within moments of opening the floor. One by one, individual speakers made their arguments. And one by one, over the course of two hours, I heard impassioned speeches from both sides of the issue.
These speeches brought various angles of the controversy to light. Members urged us to protect the interest of the TWU law students (who remain only potential for now, since the school has not opened yet). In contrast, others reminded us of the long-standing discrimination faced by the LGBT community and how our mandate to the greater public required denouncing TWU’s institutional prejudices.
Both sides also drew from principle and law. Some felt the Law Society was required to support TWU to be consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 decision in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers. Others saw that case as not binding, not relevant, and not justification to stay quiet on the issue. The underlying principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the B.C. Human Rights Code were raised.
I was struck by how respectful the discourse was. There was a real exchange of opinions that did not come at the expense of any one side’s arguments. I was impressed by the sense of conviction and courage shown. In recognition of speakers for both sides, members broke into applause (and in one case a standing ovation) throughout the afternoon. It would be overly simplistic to cast this issue as one of religious freedoms versus LGBT rights. That was clear to me. Both sides purported to speak out against discrimination: institutional discrimination against LGBT individuals on one hand and individuals who share TWU's beliefs and values on the other. Both sides purport to champion the ideals of a diverse and inclusive society.
After two hours, a motion was made to start the vote. My position on this issue may not have changed today but I believe my eyes were opened a little more. I left the meeting with a stronger opinion but a greater respect for the opposing views.
Perhaps this goes without saying but it’s something I had to remind myself on my walk back. You can feel passionate about an issue and see a clear answer. But just because it’s clear to you doesn’t make it clear to others. You may have a strong opinion, but there can be an opinion just as strong on the other side. This begs real consideration of any opposing viewpoint on any issue as controversial as this. The only way that can be done is a respectful and open exchange of perspectives.
I had one other thought that I couldn’t shake as I walked back to my office after the meeting—what now? This dispute seems destined to go through all levels of court in lawsuits by TWU and students. And I don’t say this with a sense of dread or disappointment. On the contrary, this is an important issue that needs to be addressed by the courts. It might be years for this to get any closure. In the meantime, as one speaker poignantly asked, on which side of the courtroom will you stand?
And in case you haven’t heard by now, the resolution passed. The Law Society voted in favour of this message to the benchers: revoke the TWU accreditation.
The vote was 3,210 to 968.
Jun 13, 2014 at 1:51pm
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains two rights particularly relevant to the case:
1. Freedom of religion.
2. Freedom of conscience.
Is the Charter out of date? No.
Therefore, is the 2001 Supreme Court decision irrelevant? No.
For LAWYERS to regard the Charter--federal law--as irrelevant because they have a political agenda is scandalous.
Can you professionally, as a lawyer, ignore a federal charter to put forward a political agenda? In my opinion? No.
Tuesday was a black day for law in this country. Lawyers have effectively spat on the Chapter. Professionally inexcusable.
Jun 13, 2014 at 2:42pm
Funny how lawyers can support disregarding the law when they don't like the results. But really you couldn't expect anything else - they're lawyers. $$$ before principle.
Jun 13, 2014 at 3:09pm
To Gordon Moulden:
I would argue that section 15 of the Charter is a right that has some application as well. Sexual orientation has been read in to this section by the Supreme Court of Canada as a prohibited basis for discrimination (See: Egan v. Canada,  2 S.C.R. 513 and cases following it).
"15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."
Jun 13, 2014 at 3:41pm
To me the overriding Charter (and social) interest is that of equality, not religious freedom. Religious freedom involves the right to believe in an all-powerful, invisible deity that lives in the clouds. And that's fine for the people who want to believe in that stuff. But "equality" applies to the "here and now"; it pertains directly to living, breathing, actually-existing human beings who live in this space that we all occupy. In making a choice, my priority is with the beings who actually exist...
Jun 13, 2014 at 3:43pm
I see nothing about Trinity Western's policies that discriminate any more so than any other university's policies, so why is everyone getting in such a twist?
Jun 13, 2014 at 7:53pm
I would submit that there a great many practicing lawyers (and citizens in general) in this country who share Trinity's values. If anyone can present evidence that those lawyers have been unable to properly serve all of their clients including LGBT, then perhaps LSBC's position has merit. If no evidence can be presented, then this decision should be dismissed as nothing more than LSBC ramming their ideology down society's throat.
Jun 14, 2014 at 9:55am
Steve G - not sure of lawyers right at the moment, but as an example of beliefs interfering with work: recently an official of government waste disposal in Oregon decided to refuse waste that they had contracted to accept, as well as losing the revenue to his district of accepting it, because it contained medical waste. That included aborted fetuses. When he discovered that, he refused the waste because abortion - however legal - was contrary to his religious beliefs.
Jun 14, 2014 at 11:21am
Your "interpretation" of the Charter is irrelevant and likely skewed by your conditioning. The test isn't if you want those whom you support to enjoy their rights & freedoms but if you extend those rights to "the other." The TWU policy is not directed at LBGTQ anymore than it is directed at a heterosexual couple "living in sin" and pretending the issue is about LBGTQ rights is the worst kind of cherry picking. TWU is a private institution accredited to provide teachers for our school system, something teachers groups fought against and lost, because the issue is quality of education not student covenants. Nobody is forced to attend TWU, and frankly I do not know why they would although it can't be worse quality than most of our public universities.
The courts have already interpreted what "Freedom of Religion" means in this country. The absence of any undue hardship upon LGBTQ based upon the student covenant does not outweigh the religious freedoms that permit the document. I know this is impossible for most of you to comprehend and you are reliant upon your ideological masters to massage your stimulus response but what TWU is doing is protected by law and what the law societies are doing violates the Charter. The TWU rules are for a private religious community and as such are free from government interference. The belief that a law grad from TWU would be any less ethical or willing to provide a strong defence for someone "different" is ridiculous on its face: lawyers defend myriad people who offend them personally but their professional standards hold true.
This is not an effort to protect LGBTQ individuals but an effort to attack religion, similar to the proposed Quebec Charter. Blocking a qualified individual from practicing law because she/he attended a Christian school is discrimination. No doubt the conditioned herd will simply write me off as part of the "religious right" but that is their stimulus response. I am in favour of taxing churches and pursuing their hierarchies for complicity in residential school abuse as well as covering up ongoing abuse in other locations. I am also a firm believer in protecting our Charter Rights, especially when I disagree with those being targeted. Most of you would happily see the Charter Rights of opponents violated because "the other" is inherently wrong.
Jun 14, 2014 at 5:15pm
Why would anyone trust the Benchers if they cave?
The matter has been adjudicated by the Benchers, rightly in my view. That so many lawyers are incapable of understanding the matter as adjudged by the Benchers reflects very poorly on the legal profession. Too many University-leftist lawyers interested in cultural marxism, very clearly.
Jun 15, 2014 at 2:25pm
The fact that a majority of lawyers support unreasonable emotional logic over clear legal precedent speaks to the sorry state of our criminal system. The fact that most lawyers go out of their way to protect criminals and could care less about victims speaks to their low standing in our society. I once had a lawyer tell me that he was taught that the police are ALWAYS liars. We have a bunch of left wing ideologists trying to cram their worldview down our throats. And if you don't believe as they do then you are always wrong. They have no room for dissenting viewpoints - ironically exactly what the law is suppose to protect.