POLITICS

New Brunswick upholds ruling to allow Christian law school grads to practise

01/09/2015 08:34 EST | Updated 03/11/2015 05:59 EDT
FREDERICTON - Graduates of a proposed Christian law school in British Columbia that has stoked controversy would be able to practise in New Brunswick, that province's law society said Friday.

The council of the Law Society of New Brunswick met Friday to discuss a decision it made last year to accredit Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C.

The university requires all students and staff to sign a covenant barring same-sex relationships, saying school members must observe a set of Christian behavourial standards that affirm that sexual intimacy belongs within the bounds of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Last June, the council voted 14-5 in favour of accrediting the program but members of the law society later voted 137-30 asking the council to reverse its decision.

On Friday, the council was deadlocked 12-12 on a motion to reverse its first decision and with no majority result, the original ruling stands.

Helene Beaulieu, president of the Law Society of New Brunswick, said she was surprised by the result but added that it shows how divided people are on the issue.

"The result of this vote demonstrates the challenges the courts are going to face in trying to balance the competing interests — the freedom of religion and the freedom of sexual orientation," she said.

Kent Robinson, a lawyer from Moncton, said the courts — not law societies — will eventually have to decide the matter.

"The Supreme Court of Canada has got to decide when there is a conflict of sexual rights versus religious belief, which predominates?" he said.

Trinity Western University said it was pleased with the law society's decision, which it said effectively concludes the debate about whether its graduates will be able to practise in New Brunswick.

"Our law school proposal has been widely recognized as an excellent design for a small, contemporary law school," university spokesman Guy Saffold said in a statement.

"This is yet another milestone in the process of developing our school of law."

The university is challenging a Law Society of British Columbia decision not to accredit graduates and a similar judicial review is underway in Nova Scotia.

The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society decided not to allow graduates of the proposed school to enrol in the bar admission program unless the university drops its requirement to have students and staff sign the covenant.

Beaulieu said the future of the law school is in doubt because the B.C. government has withdrawn support for the school pending the outcome of multiple court challenges, delaying the start of the school indefinitely.

Trinity Western University's application to open a law school has been approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

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