Published June 15, 2014 – 2:36pm
Last Updated June 15, 2014 – 5:45pm
Hearing that Trinity Western University’s future law students will not be able to practise in his home province convinced Benjamin Shearer he had no place practising here either, he says.
“I have not graduated from Trinity, but I have similar Christian beliefs to those reflected in Trinity’s covenant,” he wrote in a letter to the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society three days before the June 7 bar admission ceremony.
“The NSBS’s decision discriminates against not just Christians but any religious person who holds to a similar standard of the sacredness of marriage,” said the Truro native.
“I do not feel comfortable joining this society knowing that I am not welcome.”
Shearer didn’t publicize the decision until this week, saying he didn’t want to distract from his former classmates’ celebration.
He completed law school at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law and then the required year of articling at a Halifax firm.
Darrel Pink, executive director of the barristers’ society for the past 24 years, said it’s the first time he can remember that someone has turned down the call to the bar.
“I was disappointed that Mr. Shearer made that decision, but it was a decision that he made for himself,” Pink said.
Nova Scotia’s bar society voted 10-9 in April not to accredit Trinity Western’s law training if the university continues to forbid its students from having intimate same-sex relationships. The school, which is outside Vancouver, has filed a lawsuit in Nova Scotia in response.
Shearer, 36, has attended the same Truro church all his life. He described it as evangelical and with attendance of about 200 to 250 each Sunday.
When told about his decision, “some of my family supported it; others were unsure,” he said.
After some research, Shearer said he believes Prince Edward Island might accept half of his articling credit, so he would only have to repeat six months before being called to the bar there.
“P.E.I. has already voted to accept Trinity, so that is the number 1 reason why that would be at the top of my list,” he said in an interview.
Shearer worked in telecommunications and sales before beginning law school, and he was planning to practise real estate law, corporate and commercial law, and to handle wills and estates. But he realized several months ago that he might face this “very personal” decision, he said.
“I don’t really want to move far away — this is my home,” he said.
“I’ve felt uncomfortable since starting law school. I’d say the majority of people I’ve been surrounded by disagree with my fundamental beliefs, and I’d say that some are even hostile to them.”
Shearer said the bar society’s decision surprised him, especially since Trinity Western already won a similar case before the Supreme Court in the 1990s involving teachers’ accreditation.
“What bothers me the most is they’ve chosen to ignore the previous Supreme Court of Canada decision.
“And they’re basically forcing Trinity, they’re saying to Trinity, ‘Go ahead and challenge us if you want.’”
Shearer’s religious beliefs about marriage, including not recognizing same-sex marriage, wouldn’t affect his ability to practise law, he said.
“My beliefs, simply stated: you’re to be married before you have sex. (But) if a couple walked into my office who were a man and woman living together (unmarried), obviously nobody would think I’m going to treat them any differently than a married couple. I’m going to do my job.”
The same would be true if it were two men, married or otherwise, he said.
“My personal beliefs are my own — I don’t project them onto other people. I just feel that I have the right to have them and practise them.”
So far, Ontario’s bar society has also rejected the idea of accrediting Trinity Western, and some provinces’ bar societies have yet to vote.
British Columbia’s bar society accredited the school, but its general membership held a wider vote last week that showed strong support for changing the decision.
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