Trinity Western University’s campus. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

B.C. Christian school mulls covenant, future of law school after court ruling

The university still wants to open a law school, but is looking at its options.

Trinity Western University officials are not scrapping their plans for a law school on the Langley-based Christian campus.

“We’re certainly looking at possible ways of moving forward,” said Earl Phillips, executive director of the university’s law school plan.

He said first there will need to be analysis of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, which found in favour of the law societies of B.C. and Ontario.

Both law societies had objected to allowing TWU to grant law degrees because the university’s Community Covenant forbids sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman. The law societies argued that would essentially ban LGBTQ students, including married gay students, from attending the law school.

“Limiting access to membership in the legal profession on the basis of personal characteristics, unrelated to merit, is inherently inimical to the integrity of the legal profession,” the majority of justices wrote in their decision.

The seven-to-two decision by the justices included a dissent, as well as two justices who found against TWU, but for different reasons from the majority.

“It’s a very complex and long decision,” said Phillips.

He acknowledged that the school’s Community Covenant is “at the center” of the issue, and that is something the entire university community will have to consider.

Some version of the covenant, or a similar pledge, has been a feature of TWU since it was founded in the 1960s, Phillips said.

“It has been a feature, but it has been reviewed, and I’m sure it will be reviewed in the future,” he said. The covenant has been changed in the past.

In the court’s majority decision, they justices italicized the word “mandatory” at one point to emphasize that it was a factor in their decision.

The lengthy legal battles have already caused delays in the planned opening of the law school.

Phillips said the original plan was to open in 2015. The first graduates of the three-year program would have been leaving with law degrees this year under that plan.

However, he said the lack of a law school does not seem to be having an impact on the rest of the university. It is still expanding in other areas, and recently asked for a rezoning of one portion of its campus to build new dormitories.

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