Dear fellow BCCLA members,
I am writing to you about the Board’s recent decision to change our position on whether Trinity Western University should be granted accreditation for its proposed law school. At our meeting on January 22, 2018, the Board resolved as follows:
The BCCLA takes the position that the Law Society should not accredit a prerequisite legal education program whose admission and conduct policies discriminate against people based on prohibited grounds, thereby creating a discriminatory barrier around part of the stream of access to the legal profession.
As the TWU issue has been controversial, both within the BCCLA and in the community at large, we thought it was important that I advise our members about the change in our position, and that I endeavour to explain to you how we came to that conclusion.
One of the enduring challenges for a civil liberties advocate is where to draw the line when fundamental rights and liberties appear to conflict. How do you reconcile one person’s freedom of religion with another’s equality rights? How do you balance fundamental rights and freedoms to best fulfill the promise of our free and democratic society?
BCCLA Board members and staff have struggled with the question of whether TWU, a private religious university, should have an accredited law school in light of TWU’s mandatory community covenant that places burdens and limitations on LGBTQI+ persons that are not placed on heterosexual persons. In 2014, our Board took the position that TWU’s proposed law school should not be barred from accreditation. In 2018, our Board voted, by a substantial margin, to change that position.
Given our twin commitments to defending freedom of religion and association and expanding equality rights for LGBTQI+ persons, TWU’s proposed law school raised complex and contentious issues. As the various legal challenges to TWU’s proposed law school proceeded, the Board decided to embark on a renewed debate of the issues. Board members prepared and exchanged papers unpacking the issues and evidence, raising questions for discussion and proposing various positions. Staff reviewed BCCLA’s historical work on freedom of religion and equality and canvassed the applicable case law. Many hours over several Board meetings were dedicated to a full and vigorous debate of the issues and principles at stake.
Ultimately, the Board came to the conclusion that a prerequisite legal education program with admission and conduct policies that discriminate against LGBTQI+ persons should not be accredited as a law school. The complete resolution that the Board adopted is linked below.
Because of our nature, and the nature of the issues that we care about, civil libertarians do not always agree. Indeed, part of our strength is the diversity of our views. Our Board did not reach unanimity on this issue. For my part, as a long-time advocate for LGBTQI+ rights, and as a queer identified person who would neither sign TWU’s community covenant nor choose to attend such an institution, I still believe that we got it right the first time on TWU.
One of our fundamental principles as civil libertarians is our commitment to democracy. As such, I respect the will of the Board as expressed in its vote to approve the resolution on TWU.
For me, the intellectual rigour and passion of the debate, the seriousness with which we all participated in it, and the mutual respect we showed one another and continue to share, affirm the lasting vitality and importance of our Association and our work. The BCCLA, and our commitment to protecting and expanding human rights and civil liberties, are more important than any one issue on which we may disagree.
You can read the full resolution here.
As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments on this or any issue. You can reach us at 604-630-9748.
Lindsay M. Lyster,
BC Civil Liberties Association