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Steve Weatherbe

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Christian school asks tribunal to reverse ruling against law school grads

Steve Weatherbe

TORONTO, June 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Trinity Western University finished its appeal of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision to ban TWU law graduates, urging the Ontario review court to overrule the ban rather than order the society to reconsider it.

TWU lawyer Robert Staley argued that the LSUC had proven itself too biased to be trusted by completely ignoring the 2001 Supreme Court of Canada decision in TWU’s favor in a virtually identical case. It likewise ignored TWU’s religious rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in deciding to ban TWU grads.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is one of three provincial legal bodies – Nova Scotia’s and British Columbia’s law societies are the others – that decided last year to not recognize graduates of TWU’s proposed law school because the school requires all students follow Christian rules of conduct, including refraining from extra-marital and homosexual relations.

The summation by Staley concluded four days of hearings pitting TWU and various groups devoted to civil liberties and Christian rights, plus the Attorney General of Canada, against the Law Society and several professional subgroups, as well as an NGO devoted to homosexual advocacy.

TWU’s case was strengthened by one 14-year-old decision and two very recent ones. The first was the Loyola case, in which the Supreme Court of Canada this year decided that a private Catholic high school in Quebec had the right under the Charter to teach both Catholicism and world religions its own way, rather than follow the government’s curriculum.

The Attorney General of Canada’s lawyer argued that the minority decision written by Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin (also in favor of the Loyola school) affirmed the Charter rights, not just of individuals, but of religious institutions, stating, “the individual and collective aspects of freedom of religion are indissolubly intertwined.”

But at the centre of Trinity Western’s argument was the 2001 decision by the Supreme Court, in which it overturned the decision of the B.C. College of Teachers to discredit graduates from TWU’s education faculty.

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McLachlin, though not yet the chief justice, had made the same point then about TWU students expressing their religion by choosing a Christian educational institution.

McLachlin’s 2001 affirmation was cited in the third ruling invoked by TWU this week: Mr. Justice Jamie Campbell’s decision on the identical issue in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia Law Society had also discredited graduates of TWU’s proposed law school, but Campbell dismissed every argument they advanced, all of which were repeated in the Ontario hearings this week.

TWU’s arguments were partly technical—that the Law Society had no legal authority to rule on a B.C. school or on anything other than a school’s academic credentials—but mostly cut to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ protection of Canadians from religious discrimination.

Current jurisprudence calls for disputes between two groups both claiming discrimination—in this case, Evangelical Christians and homosexuals—to be resolved by a reasonable balancing of interests and accommodations.

As a quasi-government agency, the Law Society was bound to weigh religious rights with those of homosexuals in deciding whether to accept TWU grads, but transcripts of the Society’s debates showed no consideration was given to religious rights, according to TWU.

The Law Society and its supporters counter-argued that the B.C. Teachers College decision in 2001 had been rendered out-of-date by advances in homosexual rights and status in the intervening years and otherwise trumped by their previous persecution – which was not deemed out-of-date. One intervener presented the court with a history of discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The Law Society argued it had long played a role in accrediting law schools and – though TWU, as a private school, was technically free under the Charter to discriminate against homosexuals – the Society could still ban its graduates on the grounds TWU was offending against Charter “values.”

It also argued that individual TWU graduates would still be able to appeal to the Society for exemptions from the blanket ban. But one of the judges noted that the Society had no provision for exemptions. Another judge noted that the LSUC admitted without question lawyers from Uganda, despite Uganda’s laws hostile to homosexuality.

The LSUC supporters also addressed the “balance” issue, contending that because there were more applicants for Canadian law schools than spaces, any rules against homosexual activity by TWU were automatically exclusionary. And on the other hand, since Canada’s existing law schools did not ban Christians, refusal to recognize TWU grads would not prevent them from getting law degrees.

Despite the McLachlin and Campbell decisions to the contrary, the same lawyer argued that Christians did not have a right to legal instruction in a Christian setting. This was a mere preference, not a right at all.

According to a member of the Canadian judiciary who spoke with LifeSiteNews anonymously, the Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia cases would all ultimately be appealed to the Supreme Court, where they might end up being “joined” into one case. It would be to TWU’s advantage if the very favorable Nova Scotia ruling got there first.

The same source believes the Supreme Court’s decision in Loyola augers well for TWU since it, too, centred on discrimination against a religious institution.

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