This case concerns the BC government’s approval of a proposed faculty of law at Trinity Western University (TWU), an evangelical Christian post-secondary institution in Langley. TWU requires all of its students and staff to sign a Community Covenant that includes a promise not to engage in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” In addition, the Covenant requires signatories to commit to upholding all persons’ “God-given worth from conception to death.” Members of the TWU community who violate the terms of the Covenant, including LGBTQ students and women who access constitutionally protected abortion care, may be subject to disciplinary measures and expulsion from the university. In effect, TWU seeks to operate a law school that is closed to the LGBTQ community and that limits the reproductive choice of female students and employees.
After a referendum within BC’s legal profession last year, the Law Society of BC decided not to offer accreditation to TWU’s law school. TWU then sought a judicial review at the BC Supreme Court. In December 2015, the Court set aside the Law Society’s decision to refuse accreditation on the basis that the Law Society had inappropriately exercised its powers. The Law Society has now appealed to the BC Court of Appeal.
West Coast LEAF’s Involvement
As an intervenor, West Coast LEAF submits that the Law Society’s refusal to recognize TWU’s proposed law school is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We intend to argue that TWU’s Community Covenant violates the Charter‘s equality provisions because it discriminates against prospective students and staff:
- on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status because it prohibits all sexual relationships that are not heterosexual and between married persons; and
- on the basis of sex because it penalizes female students for exercising their right to choose abortion
This case provides an important opportunity to explore how equality rights should be balanced against religious freedom. While TWU is a private educational institution, it intends to issue law degrees that would be recognized by the public legal system through the Law Society and the Ministry of Advanced Education. In West Coast LEAF’s view, TWU must respect the Charter‘s equality protections when its activities–such as the certification of practising lawyers–enter the public realm.
The case was heard by a five-judge panel of the BC Court of Appeal on June 1-3, 2016. On November 1, 2016, the Court released its judgment in the appeal, unanimously finding that the Law Society’s decision to not approve TWU’s proposed law school is unreasonable because it limited the right to freedom of religion in a disproportionate way.
On February 23, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that it would hear the appeals by the Law Society of BC and the Law Society of Upper Canada.