The Law Society of B.C.’s decision not to accredit a Christian law school in Langley should be overturned, a judge heard Monday.
At issue is Trinity Western University’s “community covenant,” a document which students and staffers sign, and which prohibits sexual activity other than that between a married man and a woman.
Last year lawyers in B.C. voted in a referendum to not allow TWU law school grads to pass the bar.
The benchers who run the law society faced “significant political pressure” from within to ratify that vote and overturn their previous decision to accredit the school, said lawyer for TWU Kevin Boonstra.
In his presentation of evidence and affidavits to Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson, Boonstra emphasized that TWU is private, voluntary, and explicitly religious.
He said that while the Law Society is bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, TWU as a private entity is not.
When it comes to the community covenant, Boonstra said it is an important method of strengthening commitment for those in the evangelical community.
He pointed to other provisions within the covenant that ban harassment, lying, cheating, stealing and drunkenness.
“It should be understood in context as part of a overall set of religious, Christian, evangelical principles,” Boonstra said.
Hinkstra asked if the covenant requires people to report violations of its rules by others.
Boonstra said that is not a provision in the covenant itself, but it may be in the student handbook.
The lawyer also argued that creating a new Christian, evangelical law school would not reduce opportunities for people to get a legal education and would in fact expand them for everyone.
Hinkson questioned that, saying it wouldn’t expand choices for all students, as TWU would not be an acceptable destination for a subset of students.
Boonstra said that it would draw in students who would otherwise be competing for places at other law schools, thus freeing up spaces in other institutions.
In its written reply, the law society argued the covenant is discriminatory and runs contrary to equality rights of LGBTQ people set out in the charter. The code “seriously undermines the integrity and the foundation of the administration of justice,” it said.
The reply also argues that the covenant discriminates against people in long-term common-law relationships, and against women by denying its students “reproductive choice.”
“As a condition of attending TWU’s proposed law school, the covenant is clearly discriminatory and contrary to the equality rights of LGBTQ people. It also discriminates on other protected grounds of marital status, gender and sex, and religion,” said the reply.
That would both limit access to the law school and send the message that the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people and others were not deserving or protection in the legal system.
Trinity Western has been fighting multiple court battles as it tries to get its long-planned law school up and running. It recently won a court battle in Nova Scotia, but lost in Ontario where the Law Society of Upper Canada decided not to accept TWU lawyers.
The government of B.C., which had originally given approval to create the new institution, has now withdrawn that, pending the outcome of the ongoing legal matters.
TWU won a similar battle 14 years ago when it won the right to train teachers.
– with files from the Vancouver Sun.