Iconic UBC building sale marks shift in theological, economics education

Earlier this year, the Vancouver School of Theology announced the sale of its Iona Building to UBC‘s Vancouver School of Economics.

The Iona BuildingWhile the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) $28 million sale of the iconic Iona Building ‘castle’ to the University of British Columbia is significant news, VST principal Richard Topping suggests there is more to the story.

The ‘more’ relates to the changing scene in Canadian theological education — particularly the increasing role of online learning and expanded educational services to present and future ministers and faith leaders.

Dr. Topping is a minister who pastored one of Canada’s largest Presbyterian churches, did most of his theological studies at Wycliffe College, Anglicanism’s evangelical seminary at University of Toronto, and earned his PhD from St. Michael’s College, a Catholic institution also at the UofT.

Richard Topping, Vancouver School of Theology's new principal

VST’s new principal Richard Topping is optimistic about the school’s future.

(The congregation he served as senior minister from 2000 to 2009 was the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal. He moved to the west coast in 2009 to become professor of studies in the Reformed Tradition at St. Andrew’s Hall. He became principal of VST this past summer, while retaining the Reformed Studies role.)

Topping asserts: We have the incredible opportunity to construct a purpose designed facility to advance thoughtful, engaged and generous Christian faith for the 21st century.

Amplifying on that statement, he notes that the student body, at present, is 115, but draws from a range of faith backgrounds, including the school’s participating bodies — the United, Presbyterian and Anglican traditions.

The landmark stone-faced 100,000 square foot building topped by an imposing tower and featuring stunning views to the north, was built shortly after the 1925 church union. That union brought together the Methodist, Congregational and a large section of the Presbyterian denominations in Canada.

That original Iona was known as Union College. Growing up around them in subsequent years were the Anglican Theological College (ATC), St. Andrew’s Hall (Presbyterian) St. Mark’s / Corpus Christi College (Catholic) and Carey Centre (Baptist). Regent College came into existence in 1968 but, before it moved into its own building across campus, it occupied one wing of Union College.

UBC plans to make the Vancouver School of Economics, which operates under its Faculty of Arts, the main occupant of the towered building. According to Gage Averill, UBC Dean of Arts: ”This will generate great excitement for the Faculty of Arts. The magnificent Iona building is ideally suited for the UBC Vancouver School of Economics. It is a treasure that will provide an inspiring setting for our faculty and students.”

VST was formed in 1971 from the merger of Union and ATC. Later, St. Andrew’s affiliated. “Interestingly,” Topping says, “space in St. Andrew’s will be used to accommodate some of the classroom and faculty to be moved from the Iona Building.”

Somerville1

Somerville House may be renovated to accommodate VST activities.

He added that “[VST] was using about one-quarter of the Iona Building in recent years.” He said that while final plans are still in process, Somerville House, a smaller structure in the north part of the “neighbourhood” may be renovated to permanently accommodate VST activities.

Somerville House was built on the site of the structure which originally housed ATC, near the Chapel of the Epiphany, which remains a worship centre for the complex — and home to University Hill United Church.

Alternatively, a new structure may be built, equipped in a fashion that recognizes the breadth of theological interests that exist around the Pacific Rim. As a Pacific-facing institution, that emphasis is significant, says Topping.

All the theological facilities on and around Iona Drive form what is known at UBC as the Theological Neighbourhood. While each institution maintains its independence, the arrangements they have in common are governed by a covenant.

Amplifying on its plans, a VST release notes that the school leaders plan “to use the proceeds of the sale to continue its existing operations as a theological college at UBC,” by:

  • Investing in its facilities on the Vancouver campus.
  • Setting aside a substantial portion of the remaining proceeds in an endowment that will generate income to support professional and pastoral training
labyrinth1

The south side of the Iona Building, with a labyrinth.

The Iona Building sits on UBC-owned land leased to the theological school for 999 years. UBC plans to take possession this coming July, with a view to beginning use for the economics school in the fall of 2015.

VST first approached UBC with the purchase idea in 2012, having concluded that the venerable structure was, in Topping’s words: “no longer suited to the school’s new programming, and that different facilities were needed.”

In effect, while differing in their general education purposes, the Vancouver School of Theology and the Vancouver School of Economics share a less than parochial outlook. As Topping indicates, VST’s west coast location lends to it a Pacific Rim perspective; many of its students and faculty come from outside of Canada.

For its part, UBC leadership sees the VSE as “a global centre for research and hands-on learning about pressing economic issues.” It claims VSE is one of the world’s best schools of economics, adding that in a recent ranking based on research publications, it placed “in the top 20 worldwide, and number one in Canada.”

Missions Fest shaped Dwayne Buhler — and he returned the favour

Dwayne Buhler will be moving on this spring, after having led Mission Fest Vancouver since 2007.

Dwayne Buhler will be moving on this spring, after having led Mission Fest Vancouver since 2007.

Since 2007, Dwayne Buhler has been executive director of Missions Fest Vancouver, the large and popular event that takes place each year ‘under the sails’ at the harbour-side Vancouver Convention Centre. Shortly after the end of this year’s Missions Fest (January 24 – 26), he spoke with Canadian Christianity writer about the last few years and his plans for the future. We wish Dwayne well, as he and his wife Rhonda consider the next step in their involvement as mission leaders in an increasingly complex global setting.

Lloyd Mackey: What have been some of your most memorable experiences with Missions Fest during your years there?

Dwayne Buhler: I would have to say that the main highlight of working with Missions Fest has been to rub shoulders with the men and women who lead our volunteer teams, board members, and church leaders and pastors who have supported and encouraged us.

But I have to add some other things: It’s been great to meet the speakers and work alongside the great people involved with the agencies. For me the interdenominational, intergenerational and intercultural nature of Missions Fest — giving a real sense of what I think the church is supposed to look like — is what fuels my tank.

I’m also thrilled to see how the Film Festival has developed, giving a voice and a venue to those who are telling the ‘God stories’ to this generation. We’ve seen people inspired and called — I never get tired of hearing about the people who made a connection or commitment at Missions Fest, and are now ‘out there,’ involved in local and global missions.

Lloyd Mackey: What are your interests as you look forward to the next step? Any particular plans you want to share?

Dwayne and Rhonda Buhler are looking forward to new challenges.

Dwayne and Rhonda Buhler are still thinking through what will come next, but they hope to draw on their experiences during their time as missionaries in Latin America.

Dwayne Buhler: About a year ago my wife, Rhonda, and I began to pray about our next steps.

We understand that our 15 years in Brazil and Mexico, knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish, and our love for Latin America, are part of who we are. Our hope is that wherever we end up, that we will use these in a ministry setting, which could be international, or serving from a North American base. Things right now for us are not well-defined, but I’ll keep people in the loop as they become clear.

With a sense of an upcoming change, I informed the board of Missions Fest Vancouver last March that they should begin working towards finding my replacement. They have worked on this through the last months and are in the process of interviewing potential candidates. They’ve asked me to see things through up to our AGM in May, giving some time for me to mentor my successor.

Lloyd Mackey: Any comments on the burgeoning missions festival/events field and what kind of global impact it is likely to have during the next decade or two?

DB: I tell people that only eternity will reveal the impact that an event like Missions Fest can make. It’s amazing to think about God’s faithfulness over 31 years.

I was called at that first Missions Fest, back at the MacPherson Centre in 1984, and God is still doing that today. [The first Missions Fests were held at McPherson Centre in Burnaby, then the home of Burnaby Christian Fellowship. Later in the decade, after the Vancouver Convention Centre was built, in connection with Expo ’86, the festival moved there.]

I think there is still a future for a large-scale event like Missions Fest because it meets a need in the body of Christ. All too often believers feel like they are alone; that their small church or group are like an Elijah (1 Kings 19) that doesn’t see the other 7,000 that haven’t bowed their knee to the pressures of the people and environment around them. But coming together at an event where there are other Christians worshipping is especially encouraging and impactful.

Lloyd Mackey: What kinds of developments do you anticipate for missions/missional activities in the light of postmodernity and changing relations with other world religions?

Dwayne Buhler: It goes without saying that the world of missions is changing. I see a number of important developments:

  1. The growing missionary movements in the developing world call for new forms of partnerships; partnerships that are not just based on sending money, which is too often a guilt-based way of supporting missions. We still need to find new ways to work together as equals.
  2. There is the phenomenon — ‘boomerang missions’ — where immigrants return to their homeland. They alone are the reason why Canada continues to maintain the number of missionaries it sends out.
  3. At the same time there is a resurgence of interest in missions, especially in younger millenniums. Here is a generation that wants to change the world. They’ll do things differently than you or I do them, as they are not tied to denominations or organizations. We often hear of a generation that is either ‘falling away’ or giving up on their faith. But there are many who want to live out their faith in authentic, purpose-filled, missional lives. For that reason I see many new organizations springing up – smaller agencies that have a holistic focus, less bureaucracy and a heart for authentic expressions of Christianity. It’s also why there is an incredible need for seasoned leaders to play a mentoring role – enabling and championing them.
  4. That’s not good news for the bigger, older and traditional missions agencies who are feeling the effects of an aging demographic of supporters and retirement of their missionaries on the field. But if North American organizations don’t adapt to these changes, they will shrivel up and die. That’s why it is so important to reach the next generation – either you morph, or mortify!

Posted by permission from ChurchForVancouver.ca

Martyn Brown cautiously lauds Atleo-Harper announcement

Martyn Brown

Martyn Brown

On Thursday, February 6, CanadianChristianity reporter Lloyd Mackey attended the annual Mel Smith Lecture at Trinity Western University. This year’s lecture was delivered by D. Martyn Brown, who was a long-time chief of staff and public policy advisor to former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell. In that role, Brown helped to shape many of the Aboriginal policies that were being implemented during the Campbell years.

Much of Brown’s lecture centred around the Eyford Report, released late last year. Entitled ‘Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development,’ the report was written by Vancouver lawyer Doug Eyford and emphasized some partnership-building policies and strategies for the federal government and First Nations leadership to consider going forward, particularly with respect to energy issues. Eyford had been appointed as a special envoy by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in early 2013. The text of Brown’s lecture will appear soon on Trinity Western’s Mel Smith Lectures page.

His lecture was given just hours before the joint announcement by Harper and Assembly of First Nations  grand chief Shawn Atleo regarding a major funding initiative and shift to First Nations control of Aboriginal education. For that reason, Mackey elicited comment from Brown on the significance of the announcement, in the context of Aboriginal relations with both provincial and federal governments.

Given that many of our readers look at public policy through a faith-based filter, Brown notes that he is “not a member of, a proponent of, or affiliated with any specific church, organized religion, or religious institution.” As such, he adds, his remarks are “not intended as an endorsement or a comment upon any faith or religion”.

By D. Martyn Brown

The recent (February 7) announcement regarding the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNEA) was fantastic. It certainly deserves much more media coverage and public attention, as it is a hugely important and historic initiative that is a tremendous credit to the Harper government and to the pragmatic, solutions-oriented leadership of Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo.

It will build on the vision that Atleo also helped to drive in British Columbia as the then-regional AFN chief on the First Nations Leadership Council. As such, he was a signatory to the 2005 Transformative Change Accord (TFA).

That agreement, aimed at closing the socioeconomic gaps, has profoundly improved Aboriginal education content, control, reporting and outcomes in BC. Since then, there have been substantial increases in Aboriginal graduation rates and significant improvements in FSA reading/writing/numeracy results and in Required Examinations results in virtually every indicator category. Six-year completion results are up from 46 to 60 percent over the last decade, for example. And according to provincial education ministry sources, the absolute numbers of Aboriginal students who graduated with a Dogwood last year is up 72 per cent over 2002/03.

We now know that it serves student achievement to ensure that Aboriginal education is more sensitive, responsive and tailored to Aboriginal young people’s unique cultures, needs and learning challenges. Giving Aboriginal communities more direct control over their education delivery systems is a key part of that, as it is for improved health and other social services delivery systems.

As I mentioned in my Mel Smith Lecture, much progress has been made in those areas since 2005, especially in BC – ongoing  challenges and inadequacies notwithstanding – as the provincial Child and Youth Rep has so aptly related in respect of child protection issues.

Further to the TFA, for example, 53 BC schools districts now have Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements (with four draft EAs and three more in planning). That means almost all of BC’s 60 school districts have successfully engaged their Aboriginal communities/stakeholders/partners in reshaping their K-12 education systems to better serve kids’ needs through partnership agreements that are jointly developed and supported by school districts as well as Aboriginal organizations and educators.

That same type of improvement in quality education delivery and outcomes should flow from this new FNEA in giving on-reserve First Nations the direct control over education that they have long sought.

It will provide laudable legislative requirements for better transparency and accountability; for a core curriculum that meets or exceeds provincial standards; for new language and culture content; for minimum attendance requirements; for teacher certification; and for recognized diplomas or certificates that should improve students’ off-reserve education recognition and transferability.

It will contribute to the broader imperative of ‘healing,’ which the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples said so much about and that is now being advanced by Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (That latter is another initiative that the Harper government deserves great credit for initiating and accommodating through its recent time and funding extensions to complete the Commission’s work.)

The new FNEA will get rid of the Indian Act provisions related to residential schools, which is a very important symbolic healing measure. And the new Act will be led by a Joint Council of Education Professionals that will provide advice and support on the implementation and oversight of the new Act, supported by a massive new funding commitment.

It should be noted that the $1.9 billion in additional funding for this overall initiative is more than the extra $1.8 billion education component that had been earmarked for Aboriginal education improvements in the 2005 so-called Kelowna Accord, which I mentioned in my lecture remarks. [Editor’s note: The Kelowna Accord was led by Liberal then-Prime Minister Paul Martin.]

It is too bad that the Harper government rejected that commitment in 2006 (as then-Premier Campbell so eloquently noted in the provincial legislature at the time) and that it took eight more years to get to this point; but better late than never.

The extra $1.2 billion in core funding for this initiative is over three years – whereas, as I recall, the Kelowna Accord funding was proposed to extend for five years. The 4.5 per cent annual funding escalator is almost triple the current inflation rate and should accommodate any increases in cost pressures from rising on-reserve student enrollment levels. As well, there is a $500 million, seven-year commitment for infrastructure enhancements, which is really good, and $160 million over four years for implementation, beginning next year.

In short, it’s a tonne of new money for on-reserve Aboriginal education that should dispel any notion that the Harper government is short-changing First Nations education.

All of those improvements should go a long way, also, to serving Aboriginal students in advancing their education beyond high school.This initiative will substantially improve Aboriginal students’ foundational education, skills and credentials, which will in turn support their post-secondary opportunities and outcomes via college/university and new employment training programs, including through those now being developed and supported by industries, governments and First Nations that are part of the broader resource development vision that Eyford addressed in his report.

No doubt, National Chief Atleo will get lots of blow back from some First Nations and Aboriginal politicos who might think that he’s too conciliatory, cooperative or ‘timid.’ And that’s a shame, for it is mostly through the good leadership and more constructive approaches of people like Shawn Atleo, Phil Fontaine and Ovide Mercredi that First Nations, Metis and Inuit have been so successful in advancing Aboriginal partnerships with governments across the country.

In the case of Prime Minister Harper, there’s no doubt that his meetings with Aboriginal leaders in the last two years have paid off in spades, at least on this component of government-to-government relationships. The ‘new relationship’ in education bodes well for fed-FN relations generally. But like I said during the lecture, the imminent decisions ahead for resource development will be critical in either helping to advance the broader goal of reconciliation, or in setting it back decades, if not irrevocably.

It is such a tough and challenging file. Yet these educational reforms suggest that the way to the future lies in thinking outside the box, in putting new ideas, concrete funding and shared decision-making on the table, and in developing new governance structures and permanent opportunities for meaningful and ongoing dialogue that anticipates a will by all parties to listen, learn and compromise.

(Used by permission of ChurchforVancouver.ca)

Parliament must reform Canada’s prostitution laws

Julia Beazley[Although this comment was written just before the Supreme Court's landmark prostitution decision today, it expresses well why Parliament must reform Canada's prostitution laws.]

We’re now less than 24 hours before the Supreme Court of Canada is set to release its ruling in the Bedford prostitution case Friday morning. Those who have been involved in the case know well what is at stake. But I remain concerned that much of society has yet to look honestly and critically at the real issues of prostitution in Canada.

The Bedford case is a challenge to three of the key laws that inhibit prostitution in Canada, which would otherwise be completely legal. One of the laws whose fate we await is the Criminal Code provision that makes it a criminal offence to live on the avails of prostitution, or the pimping law.

This provision was struck down at the Ontario Superior Court, then rewritten at the Ontario Court of Appeal so that it would “only apply in circumstances of exploitation.” It has been argued before the Supreme Court and in the media by pro-prostitution groups that this provision prevents women in prostitution from hiring bodyguards, drivers or even bookkeepers, thereby making their ‘work’ less safe.

It’s a charming chapter in a fairy tale version of prostitution, in which the men involved in the prostitution industry are benevolent fellows whose interests lie in assisting and protecting prostituted women. But the thing about fairy tales is when you look a little deeper you often find something darker and more ominous.

‘Attention all bitches…’

Through the network of individuals and organizations I work alongside to bring change to Canada’s prostitution laws, I was alerted to a mass text communication that had been issued by several well known pimps in southwestern Ontario.

The text begins, “Attention All Bad Bitches/Working Girls/Escorts/Strippers… Exile Season Starts December 15!”

The exile season warning is directed at all women known to be prostituting in the Greater Toronto Area, and possibly even more widespread, whether on the streets, in massage parlours, escort services or in strip clubs. Intended to intimidate and threaten, it is a less than subtle directive that failure to ‘choose’ a pimp to work with on a ‘100 percent basis’ would result in those women no longer being permitted to work, period.

The text makes it clear that enforcers – whose nicknames aren’t fit for print – are ready and willing to deal with non-compliers. The message is unambiguous: working independently, anywhere, will not be tolerated; and those who don’t play by the rules will face consequences.

I was sickened by what I read. I’m told this type of communication is just part of ‘the game,’ and must be taken seriously. These men are not drivers or bodyguards. They are dangerous individuals, exercising a perverse sense of power and entitlement, and bent on maintaining control.

A decade of experience with legalization in countries like the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand tells us that legalization does not wrestle this power from the hands of these men. Rather, it creates a more competitive environment for them, encouraging them to up the ante. Women, as this communication detailed, are forced to either leave the game or respect its origin, as the text says, “built and designed for gentlemen to eat.” Gentlemen, indeed.

Criminalize the purchase of sex

This is just part of what’s at stake in Friday’s decision. And it’s why, regardless of how the Supreme Court of Canada rules, it is essential that Parliament reform our prostitution laws

Last week the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) submitted Out of Business: Prostitution in Canada – Putting an end to Demand to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Justice and Public Safety before sending it to all parliamentarians.

It is a comprehensive report outlining the model of law and public policy on prostitution that we, along with other faith, feminist, women’s and First Nations organizations and a growing number of police associations, believe to be the most effective, most just approach to addressing prostitution.

Ultimately, our goal is the elimination of all forms of sexual exploitation in Canada. This Canadian proposal, based on the approach pioneered in Sweden, recognizes prostitution as violence toward women, exploitation and contrary to equality between the sexes.

It proposes criminalizing the purchase and attempt to purchase sex for the first time in our country, while decriminalizing the people who are being sold for someone else’s pleasure. And it suggests a Canadian way of providing supports and services to facilitate exit from prostitution.

In studies of women in prostitution, 90 percent have expressed they would get out of prostitution if they could. If prostituted women weren’t worried about facing charges, vile communications like the one I describe could be reported to the police, and the police would take action.

In Ottawa, the Supreme Court and Parliament stand in each other’s shadows. Let’s hope both will take the steps necessary to put an end to this modern day sex slavery. [The Supreme Court's decision to strike down all three provisions of Canada’s prostitution laws led the EFC to 'urge government to act.']

Julia Beazley is Policy Analyst, Canadian and International Poverty, with Activate CFPL, which is the law and public policy blog (where this comment first appeared) of the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life. She has been with the EFC since 1999, and works on issues of domestic and global poverty, homelessness and human trafficking. She also serves as the Chair of Advocacy for StreetLevel: The National Roundtable on Poverty & Homelessness.

Good news for proposed law school at Trinity Western University

Bob Kuhn, president of Trinity Western University

Bob Kuhn, president of Trinity Western University.

Trinity Western University (TWU) received not one but two pieces of good news this week, in its quest to develop a School of Law at the Langley campus.

On Monday, December 16, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) announced preliminary approval for the school, which the university hopes to bring on stream in the fall of 2016, with an opening enrolment of 60 students.

Then, two days later, British Columbia Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk announced his ministry’s consent for TWU to proceed with the program.

“I have now had an opportunity to consider the [ministry’s] Degree Quality Assessment Board recommendation and findings, as well as the [FLSC] reports,” Virk noted.

He said the board reviewed Trinity Western University’s proposed law degree and found that it met the degree program quality assessment criteria for private and out-of-province public institutions.

“Further, the review by the [FLSC] confirmed that graduates of the proposed law program could meet the national standards to practise law,” he added.

For its part, the FLSC explained that full approval comes only after the school has some graduates. The preliminary step was recommended by the federation’s Common Law Program Approval Committee and announced on Monday.

University president Bob Kuhn, himself a lawyer who successfully defended TWU before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001 against attempts by the BC College of Teachers to block a teacher education program, said the FLSC action “allows us to move on.”

Trinity’s law school proposal has garnered some controversy since it was announced earlier this year, especially among critics of its community covenant, which speaks, among other things, to the value of traditional marriage. As Canada’s largest evangelical Christian university, the school has been at the forefront of developments in Christian-based liberal arts education

The FLSC release noted that the preliminary approval comes with some concerns to be monitored, including the charge by some critics that TWU’s covenant is “discriminatory” against gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

But it also noted that many of the issues raised by critics – including outspoken Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, who has led the charge against the law school proposal – fall outside the approval committee’s mandate. That mandate is limited to seeing that the school meets the National Requirement developed by the federation and Canada’s provincial law societies.

The FLSC has struck a special advisory committee to deal with concerns outside of the society’s mandate. One task it may take on is the developing of a non-discriminatory clause in its requirements, similar to that applied for law schools – including institutions with a religious base – in the United States.

Indeed, in a July 25 editorial, the Globe and Mail, the prominent national newspaper, advocated for such a clause.

For his part, TWU president Kuhn allowed that “While the university does have strong religious roots, it is committed to fully and comprehensively teaching all aspects of law, including human rights, ethics and professionalism.”

“We recognize,” said Kuhn, “that there has been considerable debate with respect to the fact that TWU is a faith-based university. Now that the Federation has approved the program, we can move on from that debate and build an excellent law school to serve the Canadian public.

“We are thrilled to serve as leaders in Canadian context. We welcome the chance to prove that Christian universities improve society – they are not to be feared but followed.”

Kuhn suggested it is too early to tell whether a FLSC initiated non-discriminatory clause will make much difference to the process, but indicated that federal and provincial legislation already in place make such a clause virtually redundant.

The president also spoke of the significance of mediation law and alternate dispute resolution (ADR) tools in the curriculum of the proposed law school.

That aspect “has not been picked up” by critics and the media in the way that more controversial issues related to the law school have, he suggested. Some law schools in public universities “touch on it [ADR], but not to the same degree we hope to. It will form a large part of the program offerings.”

ADR is not particularly appreciated by some law practitioners, Kuhn suggested, adding, though, that experience shows 75 percent of cases going to mediation or ADR are settled at the time or soon after.

In explaining the preliminary approval decision, FLSC president Marie-Claude Belanger-Richard noted: “the Federation followed a fair, rigorous and thoughtful process,” adding that “adherence by lawyers to principles of non-discrimination in the exercise of their professional duties is an essential part of what defines a member of the profession.”

The FLSC advisory committee suggested that there is “no public interest reason to exclude future graduates of the [TWU] program from law society bar admission programs, as long as the program meets the National Requirement.”

Kuhn explained that Advanced Education’s input relates to course and program design, while the FLSC deals with ensuring that graduates are profession-ready.

And the FLSC will monitor what it describes as the “concerns” in future reviews. Those concerns include “TWU’s teaching of legal ethics and public law.”

The TWU statement with respect to this week’s two approvals noted: “By delivering a legal education within a framework of servant leadership, the TWU law program will encourage its graduates to be lawyers with a focus on community service. The school will incorporate leadership and character development into all aspects of its programming. Students will be encouraged to see the profession of law as a high calling of service, including volunteerism with local, national and global NGOs that serve under-developed nations, and the vulnerable whenever they are found.

And Earl Phillips, a Vancouver lawyer and co-chair of the TWU law school advisory council, said, “a school of law at TWU will help meet the growing need for practical and affordable legal services in Canada. I also am confident that its graduates will benefit from a culture of ethics, professionalism and service informed by the ideals of the Christian faith.”

Finally, some common sense on abortion

Mike Schouten

It’s been 50 years since Andy Williams recorded the Christmas hit, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And, as Canadians get set to key it up once again,they should know that they received an early Christmas gift last week — a healthy dose of common sense from one of our elected representatives.

In what seems to be a pattern of independent thinking from members of Parliament, Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott has filed two motions in advance of his name being added to the Order of Precedence at the end of January.

The member from Saskatoon-Wanuskewin has responded to the continuing call from the Canadian people to properly deal with the issue of pre-born human rights. The motions Mr. Vellacott placed on the Order Paper echo a refrain heard in pro-life circles of late — first, that the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly and emphatically told us that Parliament should address legal protections for the pre-born child and second, that Canada is violating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, a convention which our country ratified in 1991.

Mr. Vellacott’s first motion asks a committee to “Propose options that the House and/or the government could take to address any negative impact these decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada may have had, directly or indirectly, on women, men, children and Canadian society.” In light of what Barbara Kay wrote on these pages last week, recapping new research suggesting a link between abortion and breast cancer, this would seem like a very prudent course of action. Study after study is showing that abortion, especially multiple abortions, are having serious repercussions on women’s health — specifically the terrifyingly high rates of breast cancer. I realize that empirical evidence found in books like the deVeber Institute’s, Complications: Abortions impact on women does not sit well with those who continue to promote unrestricted access to abortion, but as a nation it should be entirely acceptable, if not embraced, to discuss and decide on such weighty matters.

The Supreme Court justices of 1988 would never have anticipated a 25 year legal vacuum surrounding the rights of children before birth. They struck down Canada’s abortion law on constitutional grounds, but were very clear that it was the mandate of Parliament to enact new laws protecting pre-born children. In fact, even Justice Bertha Wilson opined as to where protections should be placed when she said, “The precise point in the development of the fetus at which the state’s interest in its protection becomes compelling I leave to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive guidance on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seem to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.” In light of this judgement, as well as more recent jurisprudence in this area, it is entirely appropriate for Parliament to study the impact of the status quo in our law.

The lack of restrictions on abortion are not only an anomaly when compared with all other Western nations, this lack of legal protection is also an infringement on the rights of children as recognized by the United Nations

Vellacott’s second motion asks, “That a special committee of the House be appointed to determine what legal protections Canada ought to provide to children before birth, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991.” As a democratic country we should not be afraid to debate such issues. Canada is currently not adhering to the commitments we made when we signed this treaty. The lack of restrictions on abortion are not only an anomaly when compared with all other Western nations, this lack of legal protection is also an infringement on the rights of children as recognized by the United Nations.

It truly is time for a common sense approach to this issue, and the common sense is no more greatly needed than in Parliament.

This article first appeared on the National Post at http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/12/16/mike-schouten-finally-some-common-sense-on-abortion/

Mike Schouten is campaign director at WeNeedaLAW.ca.

In Support of Our Friends and Colleagues at Trinity Western University

North Western Hall - Trinity Western University

In recent weeks, Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposal for a law school has sparked much debate and discussion. The popular reaction from students, as reflected by tweets, status updates, and petitions, has generally been one of strong disapproval. However, often drowned out—but not absent—are the alternative voices in the debate. For instance, President Lindsay Lyster of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the same group that fought for LGBTQ rights in Little Sisters, has written to the Federation of Law Societies (FLS) in support of TWU’s proposal. In this piece, I also wish to challenge some common perceptions and voice why TWU has a strong case for a law school.

At the outset, I note that much of the recent controversy surrounds TWU’s Community Covenant. Among other provisions, the Covenant requires community members to “voluntarily abstain from” gossip, lying, viewing pornography, drunkenness, and “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” It is especially important to note the use of the word “voluntarily.” Signing and adhering to TWU’s Community Covenant, (an aspirational document that applies only on campus and during the academic year) is a voluntary act: it is part of accepting the offer of admission and choosing to join a private community. Likewise, TWU accepts no public funds. Like other religious schools in Canada, TWU has the freedom to set rules that best foster its desired environment, one that is supportive for its faith adherents, seekers, and their collective goals. Tuition at TWU is far from cheap, but that is the cost that many students are willing to bear–rather than going down the path of public accommodation–in order to obtain that desired educational environment.

For now, any issue of alleged discrimination is not central to the matter before the FLS. FLS must decide whether TWU can provide adequate legal training to its students to merit accreditation. The Federation of Law Societies (FLS) has already confirmed this much in its reply, dated 4 December 2012, to the Canadian Council of Law Deans. In that letter, the FLS stated that its mandate is to assess solely whether TWU would be able to offer a curriculum that includes the “substantive knowledge of Canadian law” as defined by national requirements. The wisdom of the Community Covenant, for now, is not on the table.

TWU has a compelling case supporting their application. The reality is that TWU has received much recognition for its excellence in teaching and its academic environment. The Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report gave TWU an A+ rating in Quality of Teaching and Learning for seven consecutive years, a recognition that no other national university has received. Moreover, TWU has consistently ranked among the top universities in the MacLean’s rankings, and the 2012 Canadian University Survey Consortium listed TWU as one of the top three universities in all five of its categories. From this record, there is nothing to suggest that TWU cannot bring the same level of excellence to its proposed law school, a level of excellence that it currently brings to its three professional schools and 13 other graduate programs.

Opponents of TWU’s proposed law school have contended that the Community Covenant discriminates against LGBTQ individuals and, as such, makes TWU unfit to host a law school—notwithstanding its religious affiliation. This argument finds support in Justice L’Heureux-Dube’s dissent in Trinity Western University v British Columbia College of Teachers (TWU), in which the Honourable Madam Justice stated that one cannot “separate condemnation of [the] ‘sexual sin’ of ‘homosexual behaviour’ from intolerance of those with homosexual or bisexual orientations.” The logic seems to be that if TWU requires students to abstain from homosexual sex, then TWU must be intolerant of LGBTQ students and therefore should not be allowed to train lawyers who will have to uphold Charter values. However, I respectfully reject this argument for a few reasons.

First, the assertion that certain classes of individuals are unwelcome at TWU is simply untrue. Every year, TWU admits and boasts a diverse student body that includes LGBTQ individuals and members of various faiths. Once at TWU, many of these individuals have found a learning environment that is both respectful and supportive. In fact, from the time that this controversy arose, many LGBTQ students and graduates of TWU have publicly voiced their support for TWU and have defended the Community Covenant. On CBC’s Early Edition on 28 January 2013, one such TWU graduate, Bryan Sandberg, spoke of a “powerful acceptance” at TWU that far surpassed his expectations. While Sandberg did not agree with all of the rules in the Covenant, he was nevertheless willing to abide by them. It is also worth pointing out that the Community Covenant operationalizes many tenets central to the Christian faith, such as compassion and respect for every individual, and prohibitions against harassment and verbal intimidation.

Second—and perhaps most important—the view that intolerance for homosexual acts necessarily indicates intolerance for homosexual individuals is based on the presumption that, if one is homosexually (or bisexually) oriented, then he or she will necessarily engage in homosexual sex. Consider this for a moment: Do we honestly believe that an individual cannot be homosexual if he or she does not act on his or her homosexual orientation? This cannot be true. Surely, one may have a certain disposition and choose not to act on it; this holds true for all people irrespective of their sexual orientation. I can understand if this argument might sound absurd to those who believe that a denial of homosexual acts is a fundamental denial of LGBTQ identity itself. However, this fact is not foreign to many seekers and adherents of the Christian faith, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, who have willingly pursued such a path of abstinence; there is no monopoly on the LGBTQ experience, or what it should be. LGBTQ individuals should have the option of attending a school that reflects and supports their choices.

Third, even if TWU’s Community Covenant might be considered discriminatory in that it requires persons in same-sex civil marriages to abstain from sexual activity on campus, this fact alone does not mean TWU produces students who will engage in discrimination. While much has changed since 2001, when the TWU case was decided, the central holding of TWU has not: the freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them. Nor has there been any evidence since 2001 that TWU nurses, teachers, or business professionals have engaged in conduct contrary to Charter values. In terms of law, many graduates of TWU currently attend law schools across Canada, and in fact, many are at Osgoode. All of these students have once upheld TWU’s Community Covenant, and many still live out some form of the Covenant in their personal lives. Despite this, or in spite of this, law school admissions officers here and nationwide still believe that these students are capable of being successful lawyers, who will uphold the Charter and the values of professionalism at their schools and in their future practices. The same reasoning also applies to graduates of private American Christian law schools who choose to practice law in Canada. Should any of these individuals be found to have engaged in any discriminatory conduct, the law society could accordingly deal with these individuals through its pre-bar admission character assessment or professional disciplinary committees.

Some have argued that an institution like TWU, with its Community Covenant, should not be in the business of training future lawyers. Again, I disagree. TWU-trained nurses, teachers, and business professionals have been quite successful in their fields, and they all work in fields that arguably have the same, if not a greater, public dimension to them as law. It is difficult to conceive of an attribute that is unique to law that would prevent TWU law students, as opposed to other TWU graduates, from being similarly successful in the field of law. Perhaps the concern is that, unlike some of the more empirical subjects such as physics, the law is more susceptible to subjectivity and might be taught in a way at TWU that encourages discrimination. This view, however, makes little sense. Just as there is no course on “Christian Physics” at TWU, there will be no course on “Christian Criminal Law.” Canadian law is not anti-LGBTQ, and so the law taught at TWU will not be anti-LGBTQ. TWU law graduates will have to pass the same bar admission exams as students at Osgoode if they wish to practice; if they wish to succeed, they will also have to learn and use the same law to its fullest measure.

Before concluding, I also invite you to consider this matter from a slightly different perspective: from that of an individual who is or seeks to be a part of a private religious school, organization, or community in Canada like TWU. Just as it is paramount for Canadians to affirm the Charter rights of the LGBTQ community, it is also important to recognize the freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the equality rights of those in the TWU community. It is often said that the debate over accrediting TWU’s law school is a classic clash-of-rights. On balance, however, and in light of the facts and evidence, the denial of accreditation of TWU’s law school—on the sole basis of its having the Community Covenant—would be the greater injustice. If TWU’s track record is indicative of its future success, the institution is certainly capable of building an excellent law school. If TWU were to be denied accreditation because it cannot provide a quality legal education or because of some other reason (such as the oversupply of lawyers or the FLS’ blanket refusal to go down the path of private legal education), so be it. The legal world will continue without TWU’s law school just as it will with TWU’s law school. But denying a private institution and their members the freedom to uphold certain beliefs, however disagreeable those views may be, is neither legal nor right; it certainly is not becoming of a free and democratic society that is truly committed to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Haters

Dr Wiliams Lane Craig

Dr Wiliams Lane Craig

Nobody likes to be called a ‘hater’. Hate is such a loaded word. The dictionary defines it as ‘intense dislike’, ‘extreme aversion’ or ‘hostility’ towards someone or something. It’s the antithesis of Christianity’s core value – love. However, if you stand behind the traditional Biblical stance that homosexual behaviour is a sin, than expressing that view could land you on the wrong side of the law as a perpetrator of ‘Hate Speech’ in Canada. The precedent was set early this year in a ground-breaking case in Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott) that calls into question our Constitutional right to ‘Freedom of Expression’. The Supreme Court ruled the distribution of anti-homosexual pamphlets was a violation of the hate speech provisions of the Human Rights Code.

The emotionally-charged issue is stirring heated debate in living rooms and church meetings across the world. Can you be a Christian and a homosexual? Is it really a sin? Christians are now increasingly being required to defend their stance on homosexuality as a pro-gay movement sweeps the globe, led by Hollywood’s elite and powerful world leaders like US President Obama.

World renowned apologist, Dr Williams Lane Craig, is widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders of the traditional Christian faith on the planet. Leading Atheist Richard Dawkins still refuses to debate the author of over 30 books. Dr. Craig headlined the latest Apologetics Canada Conference and has been answering critics and Christians at Universities across Canada. He granted Andrew Morrison an exclusive interview on the issue to Canadian Christianity:

Dr. Craig, the pro-gay movement is currently saturating social media and political forums throughout the world – how much of a threat does this pose to Christianity?

Political correctness just reigns in this debate. The media and Hollywood are bent on putting a very happy face on this lifestyle and do not really give us a glimpse into this sub culture and how dark and twisted and truly destructive it is. It doesn’t take but a little bit of reading to begin to familiarize yourself with the very shocking facts about the pathological and emotional damage that this lifestyle involves. The cultural attitudes towards homosexual activity have undergone a sea change in recent years so that now someone that holds to a biblical view that homosexual behaviour is immoral is regarded as bigoted, narrow minded and really a wicked person – that is a huge change. It is just another challenge. It’s extremely significant and unfortunately it seems like the church is on the losing end of this battle.

How damaging is this for the unity of the Church and its relationship with secular society?

It could fracture the church because there are certain elements in Christianity that want to accommodate themselves to homosexual practice. But those that who are more biblically faithful will say that sexual intimacy is to be reserved for the secure bonds of heterosexual marriage. It may well be the case that just as our culture’s attitude to pre-marital sex and co-habitation have completely changed from say the 1950′s, so our culture’s attitude towards homosexual behaviour may also change and become widely accepted. In both cases faithful Christians have to say that the culture is simply wrong and this represents a moral decline in Western culture and that a Biblical ethic for sexuality will reserve sexual intimacy for monogamous heterosexual married relationship.

Let’s cut to the chase, can you be a homosexual and a Christian?

Certainly you can, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. What you shouldn’t be is a confessing Christian and a practicing homosexual. What the Bible condemns is not a homosexual orientation – that’s largely out of your control from what homosexuals tells us. Many of them would love to have a heterosexual orientation and they just find themselves with this orientation. So what the Bible proscribes is homosexual activity and that is proscribed regardless of whether it is carried out by a heterosexual or homosexual person. It’s not your orientation that matters, it’s your behaviour. So a heterosexual person who engaged in homosexual acts is doing something just as wrong as a person with a homosexual orientation who engages in homosexual acts. Biblical Christianity reserves sexual expression for the bonds of monogamous heterosexual marriage and any activity outside of that regardless of that is proscribed. So a person can be a homosexual and be a faithful, practicing Christian just as a person can be an alcoholic and be a faithful, practicing Christian. I hope that just as an alcoholic can get up in one of our meetings and say I am an alcoholic but by God’s grace and the strength of Christ I am dry, I am not drinking, so someone could say I am a homosexual but by God’s grace and the power of the power of the Holy Spirit I’m living a life that is sexually pure and clean before God.

Pro-homosexual advocates would argue that this is denying certain people the right to a loving, monogamous relationship?

In one sense, I think that’s all irrelevant. The question here is about where right and wrong come from. If there is no God then I don’t think there is any absolute right and wrong, anything can be engaged in. But if there is a God, then He determines what is right and wrong. So if we believe in God we cannot ignore what God thinks about the matter. What does God think about this? God has made his will very clear on this. You are not to engage sexual activity of any sort outside of the bonds of heterosexual marriage. These other factors are irrelevant to the moral rightness or wrongness of this issue.

You have been quoted comparing the physical consequences of homosexual behaviour to that of someone who mainstreams heroin. Can you explain those remarks?

Yes, wholly apart from Biblical revelation, I think that you can give arguments that homosexual behavior is morally wrong based upon general moral principles that are almost universally accepted. For example, I think it would be widely accepted that is morally wrong to engage in self-destructive behaviour and that’s why it would be morally wrong for you to start mainlining heroin or become a chain smoker. You are destroying a human person who is intrinsically valuable so self-destructive behaviour is morally wrong. It is very easy to show that a homosexual lifestyle is one of the most destructive and dangerous lifestyles that a person could possibly adopt and that’s why I say it is as dangerous as becoming a heroin addict or chain smoker. Recent studies show homosexuals have a much greater risk of suffering from psychiatric problems than heterosexuals. We see higher rates of suicide, depression, bulimia, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse and a shorter life expectancy than those in heterosexual relationships. So people who think that this a lifestyle can that be blissfully engaged in without thought to the consequences are fantasising – that’s a dream.

What advice would you give to Christians trying to deal with this issue in a loving and humble manner?

Making this difference between orientation and activity is really critical because what that means is that you can love and accept this person regardless of his orientation what you think is wrong is the person’s behaviour. In that sense, you see that heterosexual single people who engage in premarital sexual intercourse are doing something just as wrong as homosexuals and yet I don’t think that people would think that I have some sort of hatred or prejudice against single people, that would be absurd. So I think that distinction can go a long way to showing that you accept the other person as a person but you think that the behaviour that he’s engaged in is not right.

Winnipeg Police Chief Says Prayer Can Help Reduce Crime

Devon Clunis, Winnipeg Police Chief addresses a press-conference

Can prayer reduce crime? According to new Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis, the answer is yes.

In speaking with ChristianWeek earlier this month about Winnipeg’s notorious crime rates, Clunis remarked:

“I’m a little tired of us… being ‘[the] murder capital of Canada… People consistently say, ‘How are you going to solve that?’ It’s not simply going to be because we’re going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that.”

“What would happen if we all just truly — I’m talking about all religious stripes here — started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?”

Reaction to Clunis’s comments on prayer have, of course, been mixed. On the whole, few have little problem with what Clunis actually said. Instead, the mixed reactions are a result of the platform Clunis used to say these words.

Arthur Schafer, an ethicist with the University of Manitoba, told CBC, “I think it’s entirely inappropriate for a chief of police, in his role as chief of police, to be advocating prayer either to his colleagues on the police force or to the general public.”

Elsewhere, Schafer said Clunis was using his “bully pulpit” to promote his faith, something that many may find coercive.

However, is that really what Clunis was saying? Was he really trying to push his Christian beliefs on unsuspecting citizens?

Clunis sure didn’t think so.

To clarify his comments that he felt were taken out of context, Clunis said, “If you’re praying for your neighbour, I don’t think you’ll be out there hating your neighbour or fighting with your neighbour … If you are praying for your neighbour, you’ll say, ‘OK, I’m praying, but how can I practically do something to impact my neighbour’s well-being?’”

In the original interview with ChristianWeek Clunis said he was speaking to a specific Christian demographic, “If I’m speaking to a group of individuals who are, let’s say for example, involved in sport, I would definitely tell them to utilize their sports to engage their community. But because I was speaking to this specific group, I realized what appeals to them and said `by all means, utilize that’.”

So, while Clunis’s intention to speak to one specific demographic may have been slightly naive in an over-saturated fast-moving Internet news society, his comments on prayer were not a power play for Christianity, rather a call to action for the benefit of the community. As Clunis has said, the point is to have “prayer backed up by action” in order to bring the community closer together.

Lindor Reynolds of the Winnipeg Free Press had no problem with Clunis’s comments. “Clunis is a public figure, and some argue that should preclude him from talking about religion. Nonsense. Whether you think God is an illusion or you believe in a higher power, he should not have to hide his faith. We all have the right to religious freedom and expression. Clunis didn’t say prayer alone is the answer to violent crime. He called for reflection, for a way for neighbours to look at each other and search out their commonalities, not their differences.”

TWU proposes law school

Janet Epp Buckingham, LL.D., Associate Professor of political studies and history and Director of TWU’s Laurentian Leadership Centre, who has been involved in the development of the Law School proposal

“Keep your head down and your mouth shut.” This is advice Christian lawyers sometimes give to Christian students heading to law school. But isn’t law school about learning to be an advocate and argue your position with integrity?

Unfortunately, the advice reflects the fact that many students find law school a hostile environment for the Christian faith.

Law students also find that issues that are deeply important to them, like the meaning of justice, are rarely addressed. They are told that law school is about legal process, rather than about abstract ideas like justice. Many law schools have strong social justice clubs but these are issues for outside the classroom.

Trinity Western University, in its 50th year, has submitted a proposal for a new School of Law to be located at the Langley campus of the university. Establishing a law school has been on the strategic plan for the university for many years and fits well with the University’s mission to develop Godly leaders for the marketplaces of life.

But the law school that TWU is proposing a different kind of law school. It will have all the traditional courses. But it will also allow students to explore issues related to faith in the classroom. These can include social justice and ethical issues.

All lawyers know that the practice of law includes a wide variety of situations that raise moral and ethical issues. How do you deal with an elderly woman re-writing her will to exclude one of her children? Should you, as a professional , intervene to ask questions about a potential family squabble.

How would you deal with a business client who wishes to breach a valid contract? While there may a way to do this legally, should you raise the potential business consequences of loss of reputation?

These are tough questions that can come up in day-to-day legal practice. But being able to discuss and debate them with peers in the classroom can help develop approaches before they come up.

Law has become increasingly important in Canadian society. As the role of religion has diminished, law has come to form the basic morality in society. Lawyers should therefore be trusted professionals.

W. Robert Wood, Ph.D., Provost (left) and Kevin Sawatsky, J.D., Vice-Provost (right) with TWU’s proposal for a law school

TWU’s proposed law program has two courses that will include aspects of the Judeo-Christian roots of Canadian law and the interface between law and religion.

TWU already has Schools of Business, Nursing, Education, Human Kinetics, Arts, Media + Culture, and Graduate Studies, as well as two Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences and Natural and Applied Sciences.

The University’s strong student focus and Christian core will provide a unique environment for a law school. Issues of faith and the practice of law will be welcomed in the classroom.  Regardless of one’s own faith perspective, the classroom at TWU is an open platform for engaging a diverse array of topics.

The proposed program is unique in other ways as well. The curriculum will have a skills focus, ensuring that graduates have the tools they need to get articling positions and be successful at the practice of law. They will learn to draft contracts and wills and interview clients.

The proposed program has more required courses than most law schools. This ensures that graduates have taken courses in most subjects that are necessary for being a general lawyer.

It also has required practicum placements. This means that students must get some experience in a law office or with an organization or government office before graduating. These will provide students with exceptional learning experiences.

TWU has a strong focus on excellence. Year after year, it comes out at the top of the list in student surveys in the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s for “quality of education” and student experience. This reflects the University’s emphasis on student-teacher interaction and a vibrant campus community

The University also has a strong service focus, with opportunities for outreach abroad and service to the vulnerable in the local community. It also has opportunities for summer travel study programs.

TWU has a unique Ottawa campus, the Laurentian Leadership Centre. There will be opportunities for law students to intern with political and government offices in Ottawa in the summer months.

Two TWU professors, Janet Epp Buckingham and Kevin Sawatsky, took the lead in the development of the proposal. Buckingham is the director of TWU’s Ottawa program, the Laurentian Leadership Centre. Sawatsky is the Vice Provost at the university and the former dean of the School of Business. Both are lawyers with experience in human rights and constitutional cases.

Plans are in the works to construct a new signature building on campus to house the School of Law if required approvals are obtained from the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. TWU hopes to welcome the first class of students in September 2015.