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Trinity Western hearings in Ontario draw to a close

Religious minority rights and equitable access to the legal profession at heart of the case

From June 1–4, 2015, lawyers argued before three Ontario Divisional Court justices as to whether or not the Law Society of Upper Canada was entitled to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed BC law school. Credit: Nick Lachance

Four days of hearings on whether Trinity Western University’s (TWU) law school will be accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) are over. Now, it will likely be a wait of several months before we have the court’s ruling.

Lawyers for both sides presented a complicated array of arguments from June 1 to June 4, covering everything from whether LSUC was entitled to make the decision in the first place, to the potential Charter issues.

At the heart of the case is a balancing of rights — is LSUC infringing on the rights of evangelical Christian students who want to go to a law school that reflects their beliefs? Or is LSUC protecting equitable access to the legal profession?

Robert W Stoley, one of the lawyers for TWU, went so far as to describe some of the benchers decision against accrediting TWU as examples of bigotry on June 4 — though, it earned him a chiding from Justice Ian Nordheimer, who told Stoley it did nothing for his argument to describe some of the leading members of the legal profession as bigots.

Seven organizations also acted as intervernors in the case, bringing the perspective of LGBT law students, evangelical Christian groups, and the attorney general of Canada.

Marlys Edwardh, who made submissions for Out on Bay Street and OUTlaws, outlined for the court the stigma that LGBT people have faced, noting that the protection of rights is still evolving. She argued that to say that TWU’s community covenant is not discriminatory is to close one’s eyes, adding that the covenant only enhances stigma because under it, there is only one form of acceptable conduct.

The legal issues now lie with three Divisional Court justices to parse out.