Trinity Western University says it will go to court to protect freedom of religion and conscience as important and protected Canadian values in the wake of its being denied accreditation by regulators of the legal profession in Nova Scotia and Ontario.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education have approved TWU’s proposed school of law, while the law societies of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and other provinces have decided to accept TWU graduates. On April 24, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) voted 28 to 21 not to allow TWU graduates to article or practise law in Ontario.
At issue is TWU’s community covenant. For admission to TWU, students must sign the covenant agreeing to uphold Christian biblical teachings, including no premarital sex and no homosexuality. Failure to uphold these commitments, according to the student handbook, could result in discipline, dismissal or a refusal to readmit a student to the university.
“The LSUC’s decision to reject otherwise highly-qualified graduates sends a message that in Ontario you cannot hold religious values and fully participate in society,” the school said in a news release.
“We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect and, unfortunately, TWU is now being forced to relitigate an issue that was decided in its favour by an eight to one decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001,” TWU president Bob Kuhn said.
That precedent is the court’s ruling in Trinity Western University v British Columbia College of Teachers. The Supreme Court upheld TWU’s right to teach Christian values to would-be teachers and to insist that incoming students sign its covenant. The high court found that TWU’s teacher-program graduates are entitled to hold “sexist, racist or homophobic beliefs” as long as they don’t act on them in the public-school classrooms to which they might be assigned.
In addition to the challenges in Ontario and Nova Scotia, on April 14, Vancouver student Trevor Loke, represented by Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, launched a lawsuit against BC’s minister of advanced education, Amrik Virk, to challenge the December 2013 approval of the school. TWU will apply to be added as a respondent to that case so that it has the opportunity to present arguments to the BC court.
Notwithstanding the lawsuits in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia, TWU has all the necessary approvals and will continue with its plans to launch Canada’s first law school at a faith-based university in September 2016, the university said.