For the Record - Trinity Western University proposal

Treasurer Thomas G. Conway's Remarks to Convocation, January 23, 2014

In December 2013, I sent benchers a memo informing you that the Federation of Law Societies of Canada had issued its reports respecting the Trinity Western University (TWU) application for approval of a proposed law school program. The Federation’s Common Law Degree Approval Committee, whose mandate is to apply the national competency requirement that law societies approved in 2009, granted preliminary approval to TWU’s proposed program. Links to the Federation Approval Committee Report and the Report of the Federation’s Special Advisory Committee were provided to you so that you would have an opportunity to carefully review both reports. If you have not yet had an opportunity to read them, I encourage you to do so.

I also advised you that our Law Society would be considering the TWU application and the Federation reports in the context of our authority to determine admission to the legal profession in Ontario.

Since December, many of you have received letters from a variety of sources setting out the authors’ views of the TWU application and how Law Society benchers should vote on the issue. I want to take a few minutes this morning to bring you up-to-date on what is underway across the country respecting the TWU application and what I anticipate will be the process by which our Law Society will consider the issue.

Before I do that, I want to reiterate to benchers that while our process is underway, Convocation and its individual benchers must be in a position to ensure that they are able to make the necessary decisions free of any apprehension of bias or predetermination. I will make any public statements that are required on behalf of the Law Society.

I know that you will continue to take your fiduciary responsibilities seriously to ensure that whatever decision Convocation makes on the TWU application it does so with the utmost attention to fairness and an objective process. This is particularly true because the decision-making process the Law Society is undertaking with respect to TWU is quasi-adjudicative in nature and certain procedural protections are required to safeguard the process.

Let me bring you up-to-date on developments on the TWU application elsewhere in the country. As most of you know, the British Columbia government approved the law school on December 18, 2013. The school is scheduled to receive its first class of 60 students in September 2015.

To date, one law society, the Law Society of Alberta, having approved the national requirement, has determined that for its purposes, the Approval Committee’s determination is final on whether an application meets that requirement. Accordingly, it will not be considering the TWU matter further. A number of other law societies may follow that approach.
Some law societies, such as British Columbia, Nova Scotia and the Law Society of Upper Canada, will be considering the issue at their Convocations in the coming months. Law societies are taking the time necessary to ensure a careful consideration of the Federation reports in the context of their own legislation, rules and processes.

As I indicated to you in my December memo, the CEO has directed Law Society staff to review the Federation reports and prepare any necessary background material. That is underway. I have directed that additional background work be undertaken to determine what process-related issues must be addressed to protect the impartiality of Convocation and to ensure that Convocation’s ultimate decision is made by following an appropriate and defensible process. The development of the process will also entail an assessment of the questions that Convocation must answer to fully address the issue.

Many of you have raised questions with me about how we will consider the TWU matter. These have included what statements, if any, the Law Society might make in advance of Convocation considering the matter, whether and what opportunity there may be for further input into the Law Society’s decision-making process and what material will be before Convocation. The questions all raise serious process concerns that are being considered as part of the background work I have requested.

Once that background work has been completed, I will be in a position to advise Convocation on the process to be followed and the specific timing of the decision-making process. At this point, I anticipate that Convocation will consider the TWU issue at its April 2014 meeting.

I appreciate that this issue has generated a significant amount of interest, and will continue to do so, and that benchers will continue to receive correspondence and questions from interested parties. To ensure that the Law Society is aware of correspondence and questions on this matter please forward TWU-related correspondence and comments you receive to Elliot Spears, Office of General Counsel, and continue to refrain from expressing opinions on the issue that is before Convocation.

I appreciate your continued patience as this matter remains before Convocation. We all have an interest in a fair and defensible process and need to take the time necessary to ensure that.