B.C. Court of Appeal requires Law Society to recognize future TWU law grads
VANCOUVER, B.C. – Trinity Western University is pleased with the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision today. The court dismissed an appeal of an earlier decision in favour of TWU by Chief Justice Hinkson. This will allow graduates of the university’s proposed law school to practice in B.C.
The Court of Appeal, in reaching its decision, concluded the following: “The Law Society’s decision not to approve TWU’s faculty of law denies these evangelical Christians the ability to exercise fundamental religious and associative rights which would otherwise be assured to them under section 2 of the Charter.”
“The Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that the Community Covenant is not a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Earl Phillips, the executive director of TWU’s proposed School of Law. “It is not unlawful discrimination. Further, they ruled that the majority must not be allowed to defeat the rights of the minority TWU community to honour its own values. Members of that community are entitled to make space to exercise their religious convictions.”
The private university in Langley plans to open a law school that will offer 60 additional law school spots and fill a void in Canadian legal education. TWU’s School of Law will offer specializations in charity law and small-business law. Although both require specialized skills and are particularly sought after in the Lower Mainland, some Canadian law schools don’t offer courses in charity law. TWU would be the first law school in Canada to offer such a specialization.
“Our teachers, nurses and business graduates in particular are already sought after for their compassion, integrity, training, and skill,” said Earl Phillips, the executive director of TWU’s proposed School of Law. “I look forward to seeing the extraordinary difference that graduates of TWU’s School of Law will make.”
“Everyone, religious or not, should celebrate this decision as a protection of our Canadian identity,” says Amy Robertson, a university spokesperson. “The freedom to believe as we choose and practice accordingly is one of the most profound privileges we have as Canadians. We are a diverse, pluralistic society, committed to respecting one another even when we disagree. This is something people in many other countries don’t enjoy.”
TWU received approval to open a law school from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education in December 2013. The B.C. Law Society initially approved of TWU’s plans, but later withdrew approval after a members’ referendum in 2014. TWU took the decision to court, and in December 2015, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the law society had acted improperly in holding the referendum. In June 2016, the B.C. Court of Appeal heard the case.
The B.C. Law Society does not dispute the quality of TWU’s proposed law school or graduates. The legal challenge surrounds TWU’s Community Covenant, which asks students to live according to Christian values, including honesty and integrity. It also asks students to abstain from sexual intimacy outside of marriage, which it defines as between a man and a woman.
TWU is a small, Christian university. All students, including LGBTQ students, are welcome to attend and be open about their identities as long as they abide by the Community Covenant. “Based on my conversations with others in the TWU community, I know that LGBTQ students attend TWU, and find it a safe, welcoming place,” says Robertson.
TWU has faced similar cases in Nova Scotia and Ontario. In July, it was successful in its case in Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society has chosen not to appeal that decision. In June, the Ontario Court of Appeal found that the Law Society of Upper Canada had violated the religious freedom of TWU and its graduates, but still decided in favour of the LSUC. TWU is challenging that decision in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University offers liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, and more. The law school is set to become the first law school in Canada to focus on charity, small-business and entrepreneurial law.
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