I have quite a few journalist, lawyer and communication friends on my personal Facebook page. The current issue facing Trinity Western University (regarding the opening of its law school and its controversial policy about same sex intimacy – being called discriminatory by many) is a big topic of discussion right now among a wide range of people. At the heart of this issue is Trinity Western’s requirement that its 3,600 students sign a community covenant forbidding intimacy outside heterosexual marriage. This is being called discriminatory against gays and lesbians.
The Ontario Law Society has rejected accreditation and Nova Scotia voted to approve (but only if the school drops the controversial policy prohibiting same-sex intimacy). The BC Law Society has voted to accredit the school, although a petition has been circulated that got more than twice the required number of signatures necessary to force a special general meeting of the society’s whole membership, within 60 days, to revisit the issue. According to an article in The Vancouver Sun, that vote has been confirmed by the Law Society of BC and will take place.
This issue will create huge challenges on a national scale if there isn’t one clear decision to accredit or reject accreditation for the school. It also threatens a new national mobility process that allows lawyers licensed in one province to practice across Canada.
Bob Kuhn, president of the university, has said: “We feel the Ontario and Nova Scotia decisions are legally incorrect.” That key message is strong. And Trinity Western University has an advantage because they are speaking with one voice, with cohesive positioning, and a clear and direct goal – to launch a law school.
On the other side are individual provincial law societies – each with their own messaging relevant to their vote of whether or not to accredit. It is individuals or groups of legal professionals who agree or don’t agree with what their law society decided and the national mobility process comes into play as well. That means disconnected – even opposing messages – multiple voices and conflicting goals.
This is an incredibly important issue that has several crucial elements in the mix – religious freedom, discrimination and the ability of lawyers who would graduate from this school to function as a part of a diverse society. From a communications perspective, Trinity Western University is one up on those fighting against accreditation. Those opposing this law school need to find a way to come together with one voice and to define solid positioning and messaging so that they can clearly communicate why this law school should not be accredited and what this means for equality.