Last week I walked into the office of a local notary to get a document notarized. Afterwards, when I asked the secretary how much I had to pay, she replied $50. I paid, then waited for the receipt. As she made no move to give me a receipt, I asked for one, to which she replied with a tone of annoyance, "But then I'll have to add taxes to your fee." Not charging the tax appeared to be her default practice; in effect, I had stumbled into a notary's office in which, so it appeared to me, the federal and provincial governments were being regularly defrauded.
As I write this, a more significant case of legal fraud is in the Ontario media -- the case of Mississauga lawyer Richard Chojnacki, who has allegedly bilked his clients of millions of dollars.
Character and ethics are a huge part of the legal profession, yet how much focus do our law schools put into forming graduates with character and ethics? Out of curiosity I looked at the websites of the law schools from which the notary and Chojnacki graduated -- Université de Montréal and Osgoode Hall respectively. Neither website mentions anything about character or ethical formation of their students. Osgoode Hall does mention the excellent pro bono work done by some of its students, though you have dig down a bit to find this.
Searching the websites of the other top law schools in Canada provides the same result -- again, nothing is mentioned about ethics or character formation in their programs, beyond slight mention of their pro bono programs. Even these are purely voluntary for those students who wish to participate. Of course there are ethics courses taught at every law school, but you couldn't say that ethics and character formation appear central to their public face.
I mention all this because I think it gives some larger perspective in which to place the current raging debate over the law program at Trinity Western University -- or more precisely, over its "community covenant" which prohibits sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.
If one goes to the TWU School of Law homepage, character formation and ethics are front and centre. Of course, opponents of TWU's "community covenant" will not be thrilled about this, given their opposition to TWU's sexual values. Nonetheless, I find myself in the surprising position of coming to the defence of TWU. I say "surprising" because I am not a fan of TWU -- the ethos of the place is too conservative for my tastes. Nonetheless, I want to suggest Canadian law societies, in their rush to condemn TWU, are missing an important part of the picture, namely TWU's emphasis on character formation.
There are many virtues explicitly expected of TWU's students by the "community covenant," including, among others, self-control, honesty, civility, truthfulness, generosity, being responsible citizens who submit to the laws of the country, and taking responsibility for personal choices and their impact on others. Ethics and character formation are front and centre for TWU, as soon as you come to their homepage; yet you can search other law school websites high and low and never find mention of any attempt to cultivate such values.
TWU students also commit to abstaining from a variety of practices, including stealing, lying, and cheating. Presumably such values are taught at other law schools as well, but they do not appear at the heart of the professional-formation process as presented to prospective students through their website. Whereas at TWU they stare you in the face.
Many of these expectations on TWU students have been mentioned in media reports, but they get glossed over in the rush to condemn TWU on one point of moral disagreement. The opposition to TWU is based on the intuition that its graduates will discriminate against LGBT persons within the legal system. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled, in the case of TWU's teacher graduates, that there is no evidence of this. This is verified by TWU's B.A. graduates who have gained law degrees elsewhere and have been practicing law for some time.
Nonetheless, 'potential discrimination' is the intuition driving the opponents of TWU. So let's apply this intuition approach to the other covenant points as well, in which case intuition would say that TWU's graduates will be exemplary within the law profession for such personal qualities as self-control, honesty, civility, truthfulness, generosity, submitting to the laws of the land, and taking responsibility for their own personal choices.
Opponents of TWU's law school want to paint the world of legal education as black and white. Yet the reality is that people and institutions everywhere are mixed, containing both positive and negative -- TWU's critics included. This same Law Society of Upper Canada that has prohibited TWU graduates from working in Ontario is now reported to have taken so much time to investigate Chojnacki that many of his clients are now alleging that he has defrauded them of millions of dollars during the Law Society's slow investigation.
As one of Chojnacki's victims, who reportedly lost $3 million to him, has said, 'I felt [the Law Society] hung us out to dry. I felt like we were lambs for slaughter'. Is the Law Society of Upper Canada now going to disbar any of its members for this possible negligence on its part? I highly doubt it. The Law Society does have an odour of double-standard about it.
The law societies need to stop speaking as if they themselves are pure as the driven snow and that TWU grads are evil incarnate, for there are signs that TWU grads will contribute significant virtues to the legal profession in Canada. Precisely because of TWU's explicit emphasis on character formation and Christian ethics, I predict TWU's program will produce proportionally fewer tax-evading, client-defrauding, and law society-disciplined lawyers than any other law school in Canada. I also bet that their graduates will spend greater proportions of their time in pro bono and non-profit work. Such outcomes will be empirically measurable over the decades to come, and so it certainly makes no sense to disbar lawyers who will reinforce such foundational virtues within the profession.
Canada's law schools and law societies would do well to emulate TWU's focus on ethics and character formation, even though there will be differences from school-to-school and society-to-society on some of the qualities and values to be instilled. No matter how strongly one may disagree with TWU's sexual values, their grads need to be post-judged, not pre-judged. That is, they need to be judged on the same basis as the graduates of any other law program in Canada -- on the competency and integrity of their practice and their contribution to the profession.
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