Langley university fighting Ontario and Nova Scotia law societies’ anti-TWU law school decisions

Trinity Western University is taking legal action in B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia over what it’s calling threats to freedom of religion and conscience.

The law societies of Ontario and Nova Scotia voted not to give accreditation to Trinity Western University law school graduates.

Trinity Western is facing a costly fight.

“It may cost $1 million or more in order to proceed with the defensive position that Trinity Western has been required to take to protect its religious freedom, and the religious freedom of people of faith in Canada,” TWU president Bob Kuhn told the Langley Advance.

TWU is working to open its law school in 2016.

“We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect, and unfortunately, TWU is now being forced to re-litigate an issue that was decided in its favour by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001,” Kuhn said. “The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country, comprised of the best legal minds, and their decisions should be respected. In law, their decisions must be respected.”

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education approved TWU’s School of Law. The Law Societies of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and some other provinces have decided to accept TWU’s graduates based on the federation approval.

On April 24 the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) voted 28 to 21 to ban TWU graduates from articling or practicing in Ontario. The LSUC voted to ban graduates primarily because of the TWU Community Covenant.

The school requires students and staff to sign a Community Covenant which forbids gossip, obscene language, prejudice, harassment, lying, cheating, stealing, pornography, drunkenness and sexual intimacy “that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The arguments have been about balancing religious freedom with individual rights. Sexual orientation is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The national law firm of Bennett Jones has been retained to commence a judicial review of the decision of the LSUC. Legal proceedings will commence in the next month.

On April 25, the Nova Scotia Barristers Society (NSBS) also voted 10 to 9 not to approve the TWU School of Law unless TWU altered its religious beliefs and practices. The Nova Scotia law firm of Boyne Clark has been retained to challenge the decision of the NSBS.

TWU is of the view that the decisions of the LSUC and NSBS set a dangerous precedent in Canada and must be challenged in the courts.

“The decisions in Ontario and Nova Scotia impact all people of faith across Canada. Their conclusions must be challenged,” said Kuhn.

On April 14, lawyer Clayton Ruby launched a lawsuit against the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education approval. TWU will be heading to court in B.C. over that as well. Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan is also challenging the Law Society of B.C. approval and gathered enough support to force a special meeting where he wants another vote by the society’s governing body.

Despite the decisions by the various bodies across Canada that oversee the legal profession, TWU will push ahead with the law school, the first in Canada at a religious-based university.

TWU wasn’t expecting this kind of backlash, after already having been through the courts shen it set up its education program.

“We’re disappointed and surprised by the fact that opposition to Trinity Western’s law school has not recognized the direct application of the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada from 2001, which involved comparable facts and circumstances,” Kuhn said. “It appears that some parties did not like the Supreme Court’s decision made in TWU and the BC College of Teachers and are now proceeding to reargue the case.”

When TWU started turning out teachers, there were concerns about whether the B.C. College of Teachers should provide accreditation for the private Christian university because of the covenant. It ended up being decided, in TWU’s favour, by the Supreme Court of Canada.

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