A building is seen at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., on Wednesday, February 22, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Top court to rule on accreditation of B.C. Christian university’s law school

Law Society of Upper Canada, Law Society of B.C. have said they would not license graduates from TWU

The Supreme Court of Canada is set to release its decision Friday on whether law societies have the right to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at a Christian university in British Columbia.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates the legal profession in Ontario, and the Law Society of B.C. have said they would not license graduates from Trinity Western University because it requires all registering students to agree to a so-called community covenant that prohibits sex outside heterosexual marriage. The societies say the covenant amounts to discrimination.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld the rejection, while B.C.’s top court sided with the university, saying the regulator acted unreasonably by infringing on the school’s right to freedom of religion and that it imposed its views on a minority “in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.”

The university in Langley, B.C., proposed the law school in 2012 and was later granted approval to open by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

Trinity Western has maintained that law societies that refuse its graduates would be discriminating against them and that the private institution’s case is built on evangelical Christian standards and distinct beliefs, including those expressed in the Bible.

Earl Phillips, executive director of the proposed school, said the prohibition of sex outside marriage between a man and a woman is one part of a covenant that also calls on students, faculty and staff to cultivate Christian values such as love, joy, peace and forgiveness.

“We believe the community covenant reflects our understanding of Christian principles,” he said, adding the school provides a diverse education that should be acceptable in a pluralist democracy.

“Parliament has recognized same-sex marriage but there are different views on that and we shouldn’t be adversely affected for holding different views in a diverse society.”

Matthew Wigmore, who completed a bachelor’s degree in theatre at the university in 2012, said he came out as a gay man during his second year and faced some judgment from peers but was “championed and counselled” by his academic advisers as he worked through questions about faith and sexuality.

Wigmore, who said he got a “world-class” education at Trinity Western, later co-founded One TWU, an LGBTQ community of students and alumni and now lives in the United Kingdom, where he works as a public relations executive.

“I’ve advised a lot of my friends who are LGBTQ or alumni of Trinity Western not to take the decision personally because it’s an extremely complex legal matter,” he said. “Outside of that though, I think even if Trinity technically wins the supreme court case, if they don’t hurry up and start trying to work on some of the fractures they have caused in their alumni and student community they most certainly will lose.”

Jessie Legaree, who completed two degrees at Trinity Western between 2006 and 2012, provided an affidavit for the school, saying she decided to publicly support her alma mater while she was in her first year of law school at the University of Toronto, despite being warned she might be limiting her career prospects.

“This is about Trinity’s right to exist as a separate entity where Christians can come together for higher learning,” she said. “I think it’s an incredibly important action so Trinity had to pursue it in order to continue to be able to define itself.”

Legaree, who is now a lawyer in Abbotsford, B.C., said there should be room in Canada for one faith-based school with its own views on same-sex marriage.

“It’s about being able to define itself as a Christian institution, however they do that,” she said. “This decision is going to be very far reaching and is a watershed case.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2001 that the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny accreditation to graduates with Trinity’s teaching degree because of its community covenant.

However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which is among 26 interveners in the current case, has said the covenant offends modern concepts of equality and privacy.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

‘Glam & Glitter’ ball, festival and more at Surrey Pride celebrations

Portland’s Caravan of Glam among performers from June 26 to 30

Alleged shoplifting incident no longer of public interest, Crown finds

BC Prosecution Service explains legal process after South Surrey sting operation

Meyer makes White Rock mayoral run official

Three-term councillor says other coalition incumbents to seek return as councillors

Surrey football streaker hires personal injury lawyer

BC Lions not commenting as matter is ‘now before the courts’

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

VIDEO: In Surrey, ‘The Magic Flute’ opera has makings of ‘modern-day superhero movie’

Show director Dolores Scott raves about young talent in weekend production at Surrey Arts Centre

New Jersey forward Taylor Hall wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP

Vancouver’s Sedin brothers share King Clancy Award for humanitarian efforts

50 new fires sparked in B.C. after lightning strikes across province

Similar conditions seen at the beginning of 2017 wildfire season

B.C. woman graduates high school at age 92

Nanaimo’s Joan Deebank the oldest high school graduate ever in B.C., as far as ministry can confirm

B.C. Appeal Court rules lottery winner must be paid back $600,000 loan

Enone Rosas won $4.1 million in a lottery in 2007 and loaned a portion to a friend

Chilliwack city councillor’s expenses the subject of FOI request by mayor

Discussion about council expenses leads to broader call for more transparency and accountability

VIDEO: Pedestrian struck and killed by train in downtown Abbotsford

Person hit at West Railway and Gladys Avenue late Tuesday night

B.C. man surprised after used needle falls from sky

A Vernon resident said a syringe fell out of the sky and landed at his feet

Liquor review finds issues with B.C. wholesale monopoly

Report calls for ‘conflict of interest’ in system to be fixed

Most Read