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Don't recognize law grads from faith-based B.C. school, Nova Scotia panel told

Lawyers Ronald MacDonald, Amy Sakalauskas and Elaine Craig, left to right, wait to make a presentation regarding Trinity Western University's proposed law school to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society executive committee in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2014. Over two dozen individuals were slated to appear at the hearing. Opponents believe that there is a conflict with the discriminatory nature of the school's community covenant agreement and a lawyer’s obligation of non-discrimination. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

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Lawyers Ronald MacDonald, Amy Sakalauskas and Elaine Craig, left to right, wait to make a presentation regarding Trinity Western University's proposed law school to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society executive committee in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2014. Over two dozen individuals were slated to appear at the hearing. Opponents believe that there is a conflict with the discriminatory nature of the school's community covenant agreement and a lawyer’s obligation of non-discrimination. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - Lawyers and legal experts urged Nova Scotia's bar society to deny accreditation to a proposed law school in British Columbia, arguing the university's policy that prohibits same-sex intimacy is discriminatory.

More than two dozen people went before the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society on Thursday to make submissions on whether it should recognize degrees from Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., a faith-based institution that wants to open a law school in 2016.

The majority strongly condemned the university's prohibition of intimacy and marriages between same-sex couples, which is spelled out in its covenant that says "sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman."

Elaine Craig, a faculty member at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, told the society panel that endorsing the institution would amount to sanctioning "blatant and explicit discrimination" and is not consistent with Charter values.

"Trinity Western's community covenant discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation," she said. "It should be patently obvious from a moral and ethical perspective."

Craig called on the panel to refuse to grant the accreditation, adding that when she came out as gay in her first year of law school at Dalhousie she was accepted and didn't have to hide her sexual orientation.

Archie Kaiser, a Halifax lawyer and law professor, opposed the accreditation and said it would not likely be tolerated if the restriction applied to other visible minorities.

"I cannot see the difference when you think about the indivisibility of human rights between what TWU proposes and excluding women, Jews, atheists, people with disabilities and so on," he told the six-member panel.

"So I urge you to take decisive action to indicate that the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society does not welcome the proposed TWU law school."

But one Halifax lawyer said that even though the policy may discriminate, the society should accept the school.

Kevin Kindred, who is also a gay rights activist, argued that the legal community has to recognize pluralism and diversity of thought despite its ability to offend.

"I don't think we can presume they give false legal education or are unable to teach students the same ethical principles that I learned in law school," he said in an interview before he made a submission to the panel.

Several lawyers also questioned a decision by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to give Trinity Western preliminary approval for its law school program, saying the process it used was flawed and mistaken.

When it issued its decision in December, the federation said it conducted a fair and rigorous review and it is up to provincial law societies to decide whether to recognize degrees from the school. The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society is the first legal group in the country to hold such a forum, with others like B.C. and Ontario expected to follow.

Rene Gallant, president of the Nova Scotia society, said this is the first time the group has had a public consultation of this kind and has received more than 100 written submissions on the issue.

"There are different Charter of Rights values at play in this debate and so we have to find a balance," he said in an interview.

Trinity Western University, which is due to respond to the society panel March 4, has said it welcomes students without discrimination and its community covenant requires students, faculty and staff to respect Christian values.

Trinity Western President Bob Kuhn said it would send a discouraging signal to the legal community if Nova Scotia did not recognize law degrees from his school on the basis of its religious beliefs.

"If that were to be the case, I would continue to be very disappointed in a legal profession that excludes from its ranks people who believe for valid religious reasons that marriage is limited to a man and a woman," Kuhn said in an interview. "It makes some huge assumptions about the ability of those people to practise."

The panel expects to make a decision in April.

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