Lawyers on several sides of two Trinity Western University (TWU) lawsuits convened in BC Supreme Court Feb 24 to debate how best to proceed with each case.
First up: whether or not the lawsuit filed against the BC government by a prospective gay law student is now moot since the government rescinded its approval for TWU in December.
The BC government’s withdrawal of approval does not resolve the issue, the prospective student’s lawyers argued. That the government initially approved the school means it condones TWU’s allegedly discriminatory covenant, they told Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson.
For admission to TWU, students must adhere to a community covenant that says they will abstain from sex outside traditional (heterosexual) marriage.
Student Trevor Loke, 25, asserted in his lawsuit against the BC government that then-minister Amrik Virk’s December 2013 approval of the school discriminated against people based on sexual orientation and religious grounds. Loke has said he believes the government approval was harmful and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The BC government says Loke’s lawsuit is now moot since the ministry withdrew its approval for TWU’s proposed law school. “This is not a case where there’s any allegation that Charter rights have been breached,” lawyer Karen Horsman argued.
But Loke’s lawyers say the issue remains unresolved because the government’s withdrawal of consent also includes permission to re-apply at a later unspecified date.
Elin Sigurdson said the fact remains that 60 law-school seats would have been closed off to LGBT students as a result of the government’s initial approval. “The minister has effectively set aside a privileged group of seats for people who have signed that covenant,” she argued. The government condoned an admission policy that constitutes discrimination, she told the court.
All parties in court Feb 24 agreed that the judge must first decide if Loke’s lawsuit against the BC government is now moot. If Hinkson finds the case unresolved, the second question will become: should it be heard at the same time as TWU’s lawsuit against the Law Society of BC.
TWU sued the Law Society of BC in December for rescinding its approval of the proposed law school’s future graduates. The law society revoked its accreditation last October after an outcry from its members.
In its petition to the court, TWU says the law society has no authority under the provincial Legal Profession Act to refuse graduates who meet the act’s primary objective, which is assuring the competence of lawyers in the public interest.
The case continues Feb 25.