On June 29, the Ontario Court of Appeal allowed the Ontario legal profession to exclude graduates from Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. TWU, a British Columbia Christian university, said it will appeal the decision.
The Law Society of Upper Canada said it would not permit graduates of TWU’s law school, which is not operational, because the private universities Community Covenant requires all students to follow traditional Christian moral sexuality, including prohibiting sex between both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples.
The law societies of Nova Scotia and TWU’s home province of British Columbia have also rejected TWU law grads, but courts in those provinces have overruled those law societies, upholding freedoms of religion, conscience, and association. The law societies have appealed the decisions; the Nova Scotia case has yet to be ruled on, while the B.C. case has yet to be heard.
Justice James MacPherson wrote in the unanimous decision that not accrediting TWU does, in fact, infringe the right to freedom of religion, but that it was justifiable because parts of the community covenant “is deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community, and it hurts.” MacPherson explained, the Law Society’s “decision not to accredit TWU does not prevent the practice of a religious belief itself; rather it denies a public benefit because of the impact of that religious belief on others — members of the LGBTQ community.”
The Law Society of Upper Canada’s spokesman, Paul Schabas, said “We are pleased that the Court recognizied the Law Society’s role in preventing and removing discriminatory barriers to access to the legal profession.” John Norris, who represented Ontario’s Criminal Lawyers Association, an intervenor, approved the decision, saying, “The time has come to not accept at face value religious justifications for discriminatory conduct in the public sphere.”
Amy Robertson, a TWU spokesperson, said, “this is a loss for all Canadians. Freedom of conscience and religion is the first of the fundamental freedoms mentioned in the Charter. It is deeply compromised by this decision, and everyone in Canada, religious or not, should be concerned. Canada is a diverse, pluralistic society, committed to living peacefully together even when we disagree. Many countries don’t enjoy this privilege.”
John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which intervened on TWU’s behalf, said the ruling “undermined the freedom of association of every other group in Canada.” Carpay said, “for a free society to remain free, its citizens must accept that other people can and do have radically different conceptions of reality, including unpopular ideas about sex and sexual morality.”