TWU grads can’t practice law in Ontario

Trinity Western University will appeal an Ontario court decision that would prevent future law school grads from practicing in that province.

The court decision may throw a monkey wrench into TWU’s plans to establish a law school at its Langley campus. The university’s lawyers suggested it might not open the school at all if its graduates can’t practice in Ontario, the country’s largest market for lawyers.

Trinity Western has been involved in disputes with several provincial law societies, including Ontario’s Law Society of Upper Canada.

At issue is the Community Covenant which every TWU student and staffer must sign. The covenant, among other things, bans people from sexual intimacy outside marriage between a man and a woman.

TWU emphasized that the judges did find there had been a breach of religious freedom.

“The court’s ultimate decision against TWU is starkly at odds with the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 decision direction approval of TWU’s teacher education program,” said university spokesperson Dr. Guy Saffold. “It points a knife at the freedom of faith communities across Canada to hold an practice their beliefs.”

However, the Ontario court found that there was a clash of rights at stake.

“On one side, there is the right of the applicants [TWU] to freedom of religion including their right to operate a law school designed for persons who share a common religious belief,” said the judgement. “On the other side, there are the rights of the members of the respondent [the Law Society], both current and future, to equal access, on a merit basis, to membership that the respondent, consistent with its history, has a duty to protect.”

The court found that TWU’s covenant is discriminatory, calling that “self evident.”

It discriminates not just against gay, lesbian, or trans-gendered would-be students, but against those who simply do not believe in marriage, the court commented.

The court noted that while TWU emphasized it will admit anyone, the Covenant can cause the expulsion or suspension of people who do not live up to its standards.

That discrimination could have practical effects, the court noted, because there are fewer law school spaces in Canada than applicants every year.

The ruling also noted that Evangelical Christians have been studying law and gaining their credentials through secular law schools for many years.

The ruling said that the difference between this case and the fight over accrediting teachers is that the BC College of Teachers is only mandated to approve teachers based on competence. The Law Society of Upper Canada has a broader mandate, including to advance justice.

TWU has won a recent victory in a Nova Scotia court over the same issue. Because of the issues, the province also withdrew its authorization for TWU to create the law school, earlier this year.

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