“When a private institution, such as Trinity Western University, seeks recognition as a provider of legal education to the public, it must respect the Charter’s substantive equality protections. The Law Society is bound by the Charter not to endorse a law school which violates the right to equality,” says Raji Mangat, West Coast LEAF’s Director of Litigation.
That’s what West Coast LEAF is arguing today as the hearing begins in the BC Court of Appeal (“BCCA”) concerning the Law Society of British Columbia’s decision to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at Trinity Western University (“TWU”). The Law Society’s refusal to grant accreditation to TWU’s proposed faculty of law was overturned by the BC Supreme Court, and the Law Society is now before the BCCA seeking an appeal of the lower court’s decision.
The case, Trinity Western University and Brayden Volkenant v Law Society of British Columbia, concerns TWU’s proposed law school admission policy. TWU requires students, staff, and faculty to sign a community covenant that prohibits sexual expression outside a heterosexual marriage relationship. The covenant also prohibits anyone who works, teaches, or studies at the university from obtaining abortions, which violates the constitutionally protected reproductive rights of female students, staff, and faculty. Noncompliance with the covenant may result in sanctions or expulsion from the university.
West Coast LEAF has been paying close attention to this case since 2014, and is intervening at the BCCA to argue in support of the Law Society’s decision to deny accreditation to TWU’s law school. We will argue, as we did in August 2015 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.
“TWU’s community covenant discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status by prohibiting all relationships that are not heterosexual and between married persons. The covenant further discriminates against and penalizes women for exercising autonomy over their bodies in choosing to have an abortion,” Mangat explains.
West Coast LEAF maintains 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 hold admission policies that contravene fundamental principles of our Constitution.