Backers of an evangelical Christian university that bans sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage will learn Tuesday if graduates of the school’s proposed law school will be allowed to practise in British Columbia.
The B.C. Court of Appeal is set to release its decision on whether the Law Society of B.C. was wrong for denying accreditation to future alumni of a planned law program at Trinity Western University.
At issue is the school’s so-called community covenant, which all students must sign pledging sexual intimacy may only occur between a man and a woman who are married.
University spokeswoman Amy Robertson said the school hopes the court ruling follows one in Nova Scotia, where in July, the Court of Appeal dismissed an application from that province’s law society to quash an earlier ruling siding with Trinity Western.
“The ability to believe as we choose, practise accordingly and live peacefully among one another even when we may disagree is core to being Canadians,” Ms. Robertson said in an e-mail.
“We’re ultimately looking forward to training law students who will serve Canadians with integrity, excellence and compassion – much like grads of our education, business, nursing and other programs are already doing.”
In 2014, the Law Society of B.C. initially opted to recognize Trinity Western law graduates, but reversed the decision six months later after its general membership voted 74 per cent against granting accreditation.
The society cited concern over the school’s covenant, which it said discriminated against gays and lesbians hoping to enter the legal profession.
A dispute over the law society’s decision came to a head late last year when Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson of the B.C. Supreme Court sided with the university.
Mr. Hinkson said the law society’s governing board allowed itself to be inappropriately blinded by its members, citing an error of administrative law as opposed to broader issues around constitutional liberties.
The Law Society of B.C. declined to comment.
Trinity Western has come under fire elsewhere in Canada, including in June, when the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal denied the N.S. Barristers’ Society’s push to prevent the school’s law graduates from working in that province. The society has since said it would not appeal the decision.
A similar legal battle is taking place in Ontario, but the appeal court in that province upheld a ruling in favour of its law society’s decision to not accredit Trinity’s law graduates.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada approved accreditation, in addition to societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Manitoba has put the decision on hold.
The head of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said he’s hoping for a university victory.
John Carpay, head of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, said exclusive organizations are “just life” and not everyone will feel welcome in all groups.
“In a free society, people have the right to create organizations of their own choosing, whether it’s a gay soccer league or whether it’s Trinity Western University with its community covenant,” said Carpay, who is also a lawyer.
“If we are to preserve that free society then we can’t have the government compel every organization to welcome every person.”
The law society is singling out Trinity Western while welcoming lawyers from countries with poor human-rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Carpay said.
“Why is the Law Society of B.C. picking on a Canadian university when they have no problem with law degrees that are earned in countries that oppress women and throw homosexuals off of buildings?”
Trinity Western’s law school is tentatively scheduled to open in the fall of 2018 after an initial start date planned for 2016. The school is located in the Fraser Valley community of Langley and enrols about 4,000 students annually.