The legal profession got a little less equal today, as the BC Court of Appeal (“BCCA”) has dismissed an appeal regarding the Law Society of BC’s rejection of the proposed law school at Trinity Western University (“TWU”). Having a separate law school that effectively excludes LGBTQ people and women who may want to exercise their rights to reproductive freedom hearkens back to an era of segregation. Just as separate water fountains or areas of the bus are understood as historical hallmarks of racism, separate educational institutions undermine our constitutional guarantee of equality today.
The case concerns TWU’s community covenant, which applies to all TWU students, staff, and faculty members. The covenant prohibits sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage and violates women’s reproductive rights by banning abortion. Noncompliance with the covenant may result in sanctions or expulsion from the university. Students applying to TWU’s proposed law school are subject to all terms of its community covenant. Even the Court recognized that TWU effectively excludes LGBTQ students through this policy.
West Coast LEAF intervened in support of the Law Society’s decision to not to accredit TWU’s law school. We argued at the BCCA, as we did at the BC Supreme Court, that the Law Society’s decision reflects a proper weighing of the rights at stake by upholding the fundamental right to equality enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
We are extremely disappointed that the decision did not take seriously the discriminatory impacts of the covenant on potential LGBTQ and female students, staff and faculty. In fact, the Court seems to have completely ignored the impacts on women’s rights.
The Court’s ruling found that the Law Society’s decision not to approve the law school was unreasonable because it unduly limits freedom of religion. The freedom to hold religious beliefs is an important constitutional right, but it is more than belief that is at stake in this case – it is the ability to act on those beliefs in a discriminatory way.
We say that the government cannot condone such discrimination in the name of religion and that legal education must be accessible regardless of an applicant’s sexual orientation, marital status or gender. A Canadian law school whose purpose is to educate future lawyers and judges cannot make admission contingent on abiding by policies and practices that contravene fundamental rights and principles enshrined in our Constitution.
This ruling is likely not the last word in this case and we anticipate that this case will proceed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Read more about West Coast LEAF’s work on this case, including the arguments we made at the BC Supreme Court and at the BCCA.