The Faculty Council at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University has passed a motion, with near-unanimous support, calling on Trinity Western University (TWU) to eliminate language from its Community Covenant Agreement that discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, faculty and staff.
“The Osgoode motion reaffirms the school’s commitment to promoting diversity and equality in the learning environment and its ongoing efforts to achieve improvements on these goals in the professional community,” said Professor Mary Jane Mossman, the mover of the motion. “In the past, the legal profession has excluded individuals based on gender, race, religion or ableness. In 2014, it would be profoundly regressive to institutionalize such exclusion in a law school’s policy.”
In passing its motion on Feb. 10, Osgoode joins a chorus of organizations that have raised concerns about the appropriateness of the TWU environment for legal education and the disproportionate pathways into legal practice for those targeted by TWU’s Covenant. Law schools at three other universities have passed similar motions, and law faculty in Alberta have written their law society with concerns. Other organizations that have spoken on the issue include the Canadian Council of Law Deans, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, LEAF, law school student governments and law school LGBTQ groups.
“The motion passed by Osgoode Faculty Council speaks to the value Osgoode places in building a more inclusive, representative learning environment and legal profession,” said Osgoode student Douglas Judson, seconder of the motion. “It not only calls on TWU to retract its policies, but institutes ameliorative measures tied to the themes of the TWU discussion – sexual orientation, religious freedom and human rights.”
As part of the motion, the Osgoode Faculty Council also agreed to make its best efforts to establish financial allotments to be awarded annually: one prize for the best essay about law, sexual orientation/identity, and human rights/equality; another for the best essay about law, religion and human rights/equality; and a bursary or scholarship for an LGBTQ student in financial need.
The chair of Faculty Council will forward a copy of the motion to the president of Trinity Western University and the motion will be widely circulated to law schools and other organizations, including the Federation of Law Societies and the Law Society of Upper Canada.
TWU is a private, faith-based university seeking to open a fully-accredited law school. Incoming students and faculty at TWU must sign a “Community Covenant Agreement”, which requires the signatory to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. The TWU Student Handbook states that students who do not comply with the agreement may be removed from the university without readmission.
Last year, the government of the Province of British Columbia approved the degree-granting program. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada recommended that provincial law societies grant approval to TWU. Since that time, law schools across Canada have registered their concerns about the integrity of a program of legal education at an institution that openly discriminates on a protected ground, such as sexual orientation.
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