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Steve Weatherbe

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Big win for Trinity Western: BC judge says ban on Christian law school infringes religious freedom

Steve Weatherbe

VANCOUVER, December 10, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Trinity Western University has won round three of its tumultuous battle with Canada’s legal profession, as the B.C. Supreme Court ruled today the province’s lawyers had violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms when they rejected in advance graduates of the Langley, B.C. Christian university’s proposed law school.

“The evidence in this case and the relevant precedents conclusively establish that the decision does infringe the petitioners’ Charter right to freedom of religion,” stated Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson.

Hinkson’s ruling echoed Nova Scotia judge Jaimie Campbell’s January decision to nullify a vote by the legal profession there to reject in advance and sight unseen all TWU law grads. The Ontario courts, however, upheld the decision by the legal profession of Canada’s most populous province also to reject TWU law grads.

The B.C. Law Society’s own ruling body initially accepted TWU’s law school proposal. But the general membership voted to reverse its decision, which Mr. Justice Hinkson has just restored.

The B.C. decision is arguably the most important of the three, given that B.C. is TWU’s home province, and that the B.C. government rescinded its approval for TWU’s law school when the B.C. Law Society rejected it.

All these rejections stem from fierce lobbying by Canada’s activist homosexual community, who argue two things: first, that it is discriminatory against homosexuals for TWU to require all students and staff to sign a covenant pledging adherence to Christian sexual mores, meaning no sex outside heterosexual marriage. And second, that the rights of this tiny minority trump the religious freedom of TWU’s prospective law students.

Commenting on the victory, Guy Saffold, a senior advisor to the president of TWU, pointed out that Canada’s commitment to diversity and pluralism was well served by the creation of a law school with Christian goals. “TWU law graduates will only enrich the diversity that we celebrate as Canadians. People from many different faith communities have long been part of Canada’s professions and cultural identity. Our graduates are practicing law, teaching in the public school system, operating successful corporations and working as nurses—while treating clients, students and members of the public with the utmost compassion, respect and integrity.”

Trinity Western has already won a famous case fought along similar lines: in 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada overthrew a decision by British Columbia’s teaching profession to reject, again in advance and sight unseen, all graduates of the university’s proposed teachers college. Opponents of TWU’s law school had to argue that times had changed and so should the Charter’s weighing of homosexual rights versus religious rights.

Nova Scotia Justice Jaimie Campbell ruled that the law society of that province had no authority to ban TWU grads, but if it had such authority, it was wrong to use it; not only were homosexual rights not violated by TWU’s rule against extra-marital sex, but the law society ban did violate the human rights of would-be students at TWU Law.

But an Ontario judicial tribunal ruled that its law society was within its rights to ban TWU grads to protect homosexuals, and in doing so it did not significantly  impair the rights of Christian law students (though they would have no Christian law school to attend in Canada).

Intervenors on TWU’s behalf include the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada; the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Christian Higher Education Canada; the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Catholic Civil Rights League, and the Faith and Freedom Alliance; the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Canada, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities; the Christian Legal Fellowship and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

But on the other side is a clear majority of the legal profession in at least three provinces, supported by such anti-Christian feminist groups as the Women’s Legal Education and Action Front, and homosexual advocacy organizations such as Outlaws, an LGBT students group.

“They believe that the best way to protect diversity in Canada is by preventing Christian institutions such as ours from functioning,” Saffold told LifeSiteNews. “We believe that would diminish diversity.”

John Carpay, lawyer and president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which intervened on TWU’s  behalf in the B.C. case, stated, “This court ruling in favour of TWU’s freedom of association supports freedom of association of every other group in Canada as well. ” 

Carpay added, “The Court’s decision effectively recognizes that freedom of association includes the right to create unpopular and counter-cultural groups that advocate minority opinions.  In a free society, that is how it should be.”

The Nova Scotia and Ontario rulings have been appealed by the losers in each case, with hearings set for the Spring of 2016. The B.C. Law Society is pondering whether it will appeal its loss. “This decision is important to the public and the legal profession,” said Law Society president Ken Walker, QC. “We will be reviewing the Reasons for Judgment carefully and consulting with our legal counsel regarding next steps.”

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