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Law society wrong to judge Christian university, court rules

Trinity Western wins again in Nova Scotia

Trinity Western University is a private Christian university located in Langley, BC, in the Fraser Valley.  Credit: Ross Johnson/Daily Xtra

You can’t ban graduates of a Christian university from practicing law in Nova Scotia, an appeals court panel told the province’s law society July 26, 2016, in the latest in the Trinity Western legal saga.

The appeals court upheld a 2015 ruling that also found the Nova Scotia law society had violated TWU’s religious freedom when it refused to accredit its future law-school grads.

Both rulings found the law society lacks the authority to make a value judgment on the Christian university, and failed to sufficiently weigh concerns for the school’s religious freedom.

At issue is TWU’s community covenant that prohibits sex outside heterosexual marriage. Opponents say the covenant effectively bars LGBT students.

The NS law society had said it would not approve a school that discriminates on Charter of Rights and Freedoms or provincial Human Rights Act grounds. It passed a resolution in 2014 saying TWU’s law graduates would not be approved unless the university excluded them from the covenant.

“The society did not have the statutory authority to enact the regulation or adopt the resolution,” the appeal court unanimously ruled.

“Nothing in the Legal Profession Act authorizes the society to issue an independent ruling that someone has violated Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Act,” the court ruled.

Nor does it allow the law society to determine Charter violations, the court added.

TWU spokesperson Amy Robertson says Canadians should welcome the decision.

“Freedom of conscience and religion is the first fundamental freedom upheld in the Charter,” she says.

“As Canadians, we are profoundly privileged to be part of a diverse, pluralistic society, committed to respecting one another, even when we disagree,” Robertson says. “Many countries don’t enjoy this privilege.”

NS law society president Daren Baxter says the society is reviewing the appeal court ruling with its legal team.

Should the society decide to appeal, the case would move to the Supreme Court of Canada.

TWU has already said it will appeal a June 29 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that found ensuring equal access to the legal profession trumps religious freedom.

That ruling came after TWU sued the Ontario law society for rejecting its future law-school grads in 2014.

A similar TWU case in BC is now awaiting a ruling from the court of appeal there.