The recent rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Trinity Western University (TWU) case have re-surfaced questions about law societies’ roles in approving law schools.
The proposed law school at TWU does not have the approval of the Government of British Columbia. There is no immediate prospect that TWU will obtain that approval and start to operate.
When the law school at TWU was first proposed, the Law Society of Alberta (Law Society) took no steps to approve the program. We relied on the national Canadian Common Law Degree Approval Committee (Approval Committee) and its processes to evaluate the proposed law school. In December 2013, the Approval Committee granted TWU preliminary approval based on a review of the proposed curriculum and resources.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) and law societies across the country will likely re-engage in the conversation about the approval of law schools considering the Supreme Court’s decisions. We look forward to actively participating in those conversations and continuing to protect the public interest including the values of equity, diversity and inclusion.
Together, these decisions uphold the right of the Law Society of Ontario and the Law Society of British Columbia to refuse graduates of a proposed law school at TWU admission to their law societies.
The refusal of potential graduates was based on TWU’s requirement that all its students sign a “community covenant” which prohibits “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. The Supreme Court found that the law societies were entitled to conclude that equal access to the legal profession, diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were all within the scope of their duty to uphold the public interest and thus they could decide not to admit TWU graduates.
FLSC Canadian Common Law Degree Approval Committee
The FLSC, the national coordinating body of Canada’s 14 provincial and territorial law societies, is tasked with approving Canadian Common Law Degree programs. This work is done annually through the Approval Committee.
All Canadian common law programs are required to submit annual reports. These reports are assessed by the Approval Committee to ensure that each Canadian law school meets the national requirements agreed to by Canadian law societies. This process focuses on the resources and curriculum at each law school.
We have, in the interest of national consistency, administrative efficiency, and national mobility, supported the work of the Approval Committee since its inception. In December 2014, the
Rules of the Law Society of Alberta
were amended to formally delegate approval of common law degree programs to the Approval Committee (Rule 50(2)).
Trinity Western University Law School Approval Process
In June 2012, TWU applied to the Approval Committee and was granted
for the TWU law school program in December 2013. The proposed program met the national curriculum and resource requirements although the Approval Committee did raise several concerns, but these didn’t hinder the preliminary approval.
The approach in Alberta
The question of whether graduates of the proposed law school at TWU should be recognized in Alberta was discussed by the Board (Benchers) at various times from 2012-2014.
The Board decided in 2014 that the matter of law school approvals, including the decision on whether the TWU law school should be approved, was best addressed at a national level. We did not separately approve the TWU law school, but rather accepted the preliminary approval of the Approval Committee.
Where are we now?
The B.C. Minister for Advanced Education initially approved TWU’s law school but withdrew the consent in December 2014. As a result,
TWU is not currently authorized to open a law school.