SCC Hears Trinity Western University Appeals

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On November 30 and December 1, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada heard a joint appeal between Trinity Western University, and the Law Societies of British Columbia and Upper Canada (Ontario).

Trinity Western is an Evangelical Christian University and requires all students to agree to a covenant to uphold the school’s religious values. Failure to abide by the agreement could result in discipline, expulsion, or refusal of admission. At issue in these two appeals is the covenant provision, which states:

“In keeping with biblical and TWU ideals, community members voluntarily abstain from the following actions… sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The covenant clearly discriminates against students who do not identify as heterosexual.

Due to the school’s discrimination against LGTQ+ people, in 2014 the Law Societies of B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia refused to accredit graduates from TWU . Trinity Western challenged each of the law societies in court on a basis of procedural fairness, and the right to freedom of religion under the Charter. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, however, has not appealed the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision.

In the two appeals heard this week, the Supreme Court will have to engage in a balancing exercise to reconcile the competing freedom of religion rights of TWU and the equality rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Law Society of Upper Canada acknowledges the public interest implications of codified discrimination in a law school:

“The Law Society’s rejection of discrimination is founded on the recognition that a diverse profession is in the public interest. It is also grounded on this critical reality: optimal competence in the legal profession is not only a function of proper training in the law, but also of equal access without discrimination to that training.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling could be a landmark decision on discrimination within, and barriers to enter the legal profession.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.

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