A rendering of TWU’s proposed law school.

A rendering of TWU’s proposed law school.

UPDATED: B.C. Christian university loses fight for law school in Canada’s top court

The court found that the school would have limited access to the legal profession unfairly.

The Supreme Court of Canada has found in favour of the law societies of B.C. and Ontario and against Trinity Western University in a landmark case about religious freedom and civil rights.

“Limiting access to membership in the legal profession on the basis of personal characteristics, unrelated to merit, is inherently inimical to the integrity of the legal profession,” the majority of justices wrote in their decision.

Langley’s TWU, a private Christian university, has been fighting in the courts for years for the right to open a law school on its campus.

However, law societies in B.C. and Ontario challenged its right to educate lawyers because of the faith-based school’s Community Covenant. The Covenant, among other things, bans sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage.

Both law societies withheld TWU’s right to certify new law school graduates.

The case pitted the rights of potential LGBTQ students, or potentially even students in common-law relationships, against the religious freedom of the independent university.

The majority of judges found that the Law Society of B.C. (LSBC) has “an overarching interest in protecting the values of equality and human rights.”

The judges also found that eliminating barriers to legal education would improve the quality of the legal profession.

The judges did take into account the arguments that religious freedom is a right not just for individuals to practice their faith, but to form religious communities.

The case became one of “overlapping Charter protections,” according to the judgment.

The decision suggested that if TWU’s Community Covenant was not mandatory, the law school might have gone ahead.

“Indeed, when the LSBC asked TWU whether it would ‘consider’ amendments to its Covenant, TWU expressed no willingness to compromise on the mandatory nature of the Covenant,” the majority wrote. “The decision therefore only prevents TWU’s community members from attending an approved law school at TWU that is governed by a mandatory covenant.”

The justices wrote that a mandatory covenant was not absolutely required to study law in a Christian learning environment. It only prevents studying in an “optimal” learning environment in which everyone must abide by the covenant.

Overall, the court found that the stakes for TWU students were low.

“Put otherwise, denying someone an option they would merely appreciate certainly falls short of ‘forced apostasy,’” the justices wrote.

On the contrary, it found that harms to LGBTQ students enroling at TWU could be more severe, including harm to dignity and self-confidence, as well as stigmatization and isolation.

“The public confidence in the administration of justice may be undermined by the LSBC’s decision to approve a law school that forces some to deny a crucial component of their identity for three years in order to receive a legal education,” the justices wrote.

Justices Suzanne Coté and Russell Brown dissented from the majority’s decision.

They found that the LSBC only had the right to determine whether law schools would competently educate their students – and that there was no evidence against TWU performing that function.

This was not the first time that TWU has been challenged in the courts due to its Community Covenant. The B.C. College of Teachers challenged TWU’s right to certify teachers, but in the 2001 Supreme Court decision, the justices found for TWU.

There was a key difference between those cases. The College of Teachers argued that TWU grads could bring discrimination into the classrooms where they taught after graduating. In this case, the LSBC was only concerned with its own mandate to avoid discrimination, the majority of judges wrote.

Just Posted

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

(Black Press File Photo)
Sylvan Lake RCMP charge youth with weapons offences

The public helped to identify the individual involved in an incident at the pier earlier this month

The Sylvan Lake Gulls show off the home jerseys (white) and their way jerseys at the Gulls Media Day on June 17, before the season opener. Following the media day, the team took to the field for their first practise. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake Gulls ready to throw first pitch as construction continues

The Gulls inaugural season kicks off June 18 with a game against the Edmonton Prospects

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

Most Read