An Ontario court has sided with the province’s lawyers in preventing graduates from Trinity Western University from practicing law in Ontario. Last year, in a 28-21 vote, the Law Society of Upper Canada denied accreditation to the TWU’s new law school scheduled to open next year. TWU then appealed to Ontario’s Divisional Court, which heard arguments for the case (Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada) last June.
Law societies across Canada have tried to bar graduates from TWU, a private evangelical Christian university in Langley, B.C., because of the university’s community covenant requiring students to avoid participating in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman,” which the law societies interpret as discriminating against homosexuals. Nevertheless, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada has found that the law program met professional and academic standards.
TWU’s community covenant also prohibits students from viewing pornography, gossiping, using obscene or vulgar language, and from participating in sexual activity outside of marriage.
In the Ontario decision, the three judges — Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, Justice Edward Then, and Justice Ian Nordheimer — write, “Contrary to the contention of the applicants, that requiring persons to refrain from such acts does not intrude on the rights of LGBTQ persons, it is accepted that sexual conduct is an integral part of a person’s very identity. One cannot be divorced from the other.” The court states that the decision of Ontario’s law society properly balanced Charter rights to freedom of religion and equality.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms had intervened in the case, arguing that the LSUC decision violated the Charter right to freedom of association. “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 sexuality. The Court’s decision effectively recognizes a legal right to be free from hurt feelings, which undermines both freedom of expression and freedom of association,” said John Carpay, lawyer and president of the JCCF, in a press release. TWU plans to appeal the ruling.
In March, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society announced that it would appeal another court ruling that struck down the NSBS’ decision to deny accreditation to TWU law school graduates. “If left unchallenged, this ruling may significantly restrict the scope of the Society’s authority to uphold and protect the public interest in regulating the legal profession. It may also prohibit the Society from continuing to take on a wider role in the promotion of equality in all aspects of its work, including in the administration of justice,” said president Tilly Pillay after a council meeting on March 23.
Last January, Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice James Campbell, found that Nova Scotia lawyers did not have a right to amend a school’s internal policies. Moreover, as a private school, TWU does not have to adhere to the Charter policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference. The NSBS, however, as a state body, must abide by the Charter ban on discrimination based on religion.